Q –I have a question. For some reason, I can’t explain why, I am having a hard time understanding the Trinity. Now is it one person? Or is it Three? I know that it is the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Is it three people rolled up in one? Or is it three different people? Boy, I hope you understand my question!
Jim – Well, let me start off by saying that if you truly do comprehend the Trinity, you’re the only one who does! But, maybe if we discuss some of the particulars, it will seem a bit less foggy.
It’s important that we use terminology that best represents the relationship that the Bible describes. There is no question that the God who calls Himself Jehovah – or, YWHW – told Israel that He was “one God.”
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.” (Deut. 6:4-5)
In other words, in contrast to the multitude of gods that were worshipped in Egypt – which gods Israel had assimilated during their 400-year bondage – Jehovah was singular. He did not share His sovereign authority or His worship with any other being. Unlike the pantheon of Greco/Roman gods, or the multiple ancient Babylonian deities, the God of Israel was one; the one-and-only God.
Now, that concept of singularity as opposed to a multiplicity of gods was clear to Israel. But, that selfsame concept of “one God” has also led to an errant belief that the God of Israel was also one “person.” Nonetheless, as early as the creation in Genesis 1:26, we find God speaking of Himself in plural terms. He said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” In fact, the word “God” in Genesis 1:26 is the Hebrew word ‘elohiym’, which is a plural word meaning “gods” in the ordinary sense, despite being used – still in the plural – of the supreme God.
So, in simple terms, when God spoke of Himself during the creation, He represented Himself as being more than one person. Now, that does not discount the fact that Jehovah, the God of Israel, is the one-and-only God. But, it does mean that He reveals Himself as having plurality.
In order to straighten out the apparent paradox, I like to use the words “being” and “person.” The God of Israel is one being. He is the only being who can rightly be called God. He is the being who created all things.
But, the being of God is three persons. And, there is no contradiction. For instance, you and I are both human beings. But, we are not the same person. We are both part of the Body of Christ, the Church, but we are different individuals within the body.
Likewise, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit combine to make up the only God in the universe. They are the only being who is worthy of worship. They are the being that created all things and is above all things. But, they are not one-and-the-same person.
That position has created arguments through the centuries. For instance, the religion of Islam emphasizes the “one-ness” of Allah. Therefore, they call Christians “polytheists” – people who worship more than one God. But, that position fails to understand the historic doctrine of the Trinity. Christians do not argue for multiple Gods. We worship a single God – the only God – who reveals Himself as being three persons.
Also, some folk argue that the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible. And, that’s true. The word itself cannot be found within the covers of the book. But, that does not mean that the concept is not clearly and repeatedly presented in Scripture. Through the progressive revelation of God, we find Him declaring that He is the only infinite, Almighty, omniscient Being. But, just as easily, He represents Himself as three co-equals, three co-eternal persons.
Here are few examples of what I mean:
Jesus unquestionably considered Himself to be God. He accepted worship and stated, “I and my Father are one.” (John 10:30) There was no question about what Jesus was saying. The Jews immediately picked up stones to kill Him because they considered His equating of Himself with God to be blasphemy. But, Jesus said it! He and the God in Heaven were co-equal! Nevertheless, when it was time for Him to suffer, Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) What we see here is a separation of wills. In other words, we have two distinct personalities represented, each with a separate will. And, Jesus obediently subjected Himself to the will of the Father.
Again, what those verses show is separate persons with equality of being.
Meanwhile, when Jesus was preparing to leave the apostles and undergo His passion, He promised them that they would receive the Holy Spirit. Yet, when telling them that the Spirit of God would come – the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive – He said, “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” (John 14:18) He equated Himself and the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless, when speaking of the purpose and function of the Spirit, Jesus said, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
So, once again we see unity of being. Christ and the Spirit are so inseparable that the coming of the Spirit is tantamount to Christ Himself coming to comfort His people. Nonetheless, we see distinct personalities in that the Holy Ghost will not promote Himself, but will teach those things and bring to remembrance those things that Christ said. They have different functions, but unity of purpose.
So, unquestionably the Trinity is found in the Bible. The words of these verses make no sense otherwise. But, one of the most interesting aspects of the Trinity is how each person of the Godhead performs a specific role in the salvation of God’s people:
It is God the Father who chose a particular people before the foundations of the world. He wrote their names in the Book of Life and promised them to His son.
It is God the Son who came to Earth to perform the Father’s will, sacrifice Himself to satisfy the Father’s justice, expiate the sins of His people, redeem them and secure their eternal destiny.
And, it is God the Holy Spirit who takes up residence in those same people, bringing about repentance and faith, drawing them to the Father who first determined their salvation.
They work with unity of purpose, yet with distinction of function.
The apostle Paul recognized the Trinity, as is obvious from his writing. For instance, in Ephesians 4, he wrote –
“There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; One Lord, one faith, one baptism, One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.” (Eph. 4:4-7)
You can plainly see Paul’s call to unity within the Church, saying that we are joined by one Spirit. But, he also said that there is one Lord – Jesus Christ – and one God and Father. In that one passage we clearly see the unity of the Godhead and also the distinction between the Father, the Son and the Spirit.
So, in closing, whether or not we can explain the three-in-one aspect of God’s revelation of Himself, we cannot deny that He represents Himself as three persons in one Being. Our God is indeed one God. There are no others. But, there is likewise One Lord, One God and Father, and one Spirit.
Thanks for writing. I hope that helps you unravel this great truth.
Yours in Him,