Our Triune God
Published: 18 October 2012 (GMT+10)
Worshipping the true God requires at least minimal knowledge about who He is. And while none of us can understand God completely, He has revealed some truths about Himself in Scripture in a way we can understand. As Christians, we should want to understand God’s revelation of His own character as clearly as possible. The Trinity is at the heart of God’s self-revelation.
But the Trinity is one of the most easily misunderstood doctrines; even many Christians are uncertain of what the Trinity means. Many unwittingly hold to doctrines that have been condemned as either heresy or serious error throughout Church history. Others are aware of the heterodox nature of their beliefs, but insist it was the Church, not the heretics, who were mistaken. In an era where theological teaching is often underemphasized in the Church, it is not surprising that there are fewer today than in the past who can confidently say what the Bible teaches about the Trinity.
Is the Trinity present in Scripture?
Anti-Trinitarians will point out that the word ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible anywhere—and they are correct. It is a technical term that arose later to communicate the entirety of the Bible’s teaching about the triune nature of God without having to spell it all out every time. But each facet of the Bible’s teaching on the Trinity is present in Scripture. These facets are:
- There is one God.
- The Father is God; The Son is God; the Holy Spirit is God.
- The three Persons are distinct, and each is equally God.
In the Bible, the Persons of the Trinity are differentiated both in their relation to each other and to the Creation, but they are all called ‘God’.
There is one God
I am Yahweh, there is no other,
Besides me there is no God;
I gird you, though you do not know me,
that men may know, from the rising of the sun,
and from the west, that there is none besides me,
I am Yahweh, and there is no other.
And in 45:21–22 He says:
There is no other god besides me,
a righteous God and a Savior;
there is none besides me.”
“Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
The apostle Paul affirms that “God is one” (Romans 3:30). He says, “There is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist” (1 Corinthians 8:6). He writes elsewhere, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” (1 Timothy 2:5). James, the half-brother of Jesus, also acknowledges “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe and shudder!” (James 2:19). But even though James is speaking about the importance of having more than just doctrinal correctness, the people to whom he is writing “do well” to believe that God is one.
God is the only appropriate object of worship. Angels are not to be worshipped (Colossians 2:18), and the holy angels refuse worship (Revelation 19:10; 22:8–9). Neither are the sun, moon, or stars to be worshipped (Deuteronomy 17:3). Idols are not to be worshipped (Leviticus 19:4). People are not to be worshipped either; the apostles never permitted themselves to be worshipped (Acts 10:25–26; 14:13–18). Herod is struck down for the sin of accepting worship (Acts 12:20–24).
But as we will see below, it is not just God the Father that deserves to be worshipped. God the Son (Jesus) and God the Holy Spirit also receive praise and worship in Scripture. So if the Bible presents the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as appropriate objects of worship, they all must be God.
The plurality of the Godhead in the Old Testament
Even in Genesis, we see an indication of the plurality of the Godhead—meaning that God is made up of more than one Person. In Genesis 1:26 He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” He is using a first-person plural pronoun (‘us’), but ‘image’ and ‘likeness’ are in the singular, suggesting a plurality in the Godhead, but also of absolutely the same nature. Likewise, in Genesis 3:22 He says, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”
In Isaiah 6:8, God uses the first person singular and plural in the same sentence: “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
Other places in the Bible distinguish one person called “God” or “the Lord” or “Yahweh” from another called “God”. For example, in Psalm 110, a Davidic Psalm, says, “Yahweh says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Incidentally, this Psalm is the single-most quoted Scripture in the New Testament, and Jesus is always said to be the One addressed by God in those references.
The Trinity revealed in the New Testament
The New Testament has even clearer references to the Trinity. At Jesus’ baptism, the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove, and the Father’s voice spoke from Heaven—so all three of the members of the Trinity were clearly present (Matthew 3; Mark 1). Jesus commands believers to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
Paul’s letters are full of Trinitarian formulas. For instance, Romans 8:3–4 (emphases added)
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
This makes sense in light of the background in which it is given. Paul is not advocating three separate gods, but one God in three persons. God the Father sent God the son to take away sin, and God the Spirit helps us to live according to the forgiveness granted to us by God the Father, but only after the work of the Son was accepted. Thus, contrary to certain “Oneness” groups, the three Persons are distinct, not merely different modes or manifestations of one Person.
And verse 16:
The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.
These Trinitarian formulas are even more apparent when we realize that the Father is often designated with the Greek theos (God), and the Son with kyrios (Lord), as in 1 Corinthians 12:4–6:
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.
Note the use of the word “Lord” (kyrios) instead of “Son” (huios) or Christ, as in the passages above.
These formulas often appear in the benedictions to the letters. For instance, in 2 Corinthians 13:14.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
And this isn’t unique to Paul. The author of Hebrews states (2:3–4):
How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was declared at first by the Lord (kyrios, an obvious reference to Jesus), and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.
For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
Peter uses this formula (1 Peter 1:2)
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.
John says (1 John 4:13–14)
By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world.
Jude exhorts (1:20):
But you, beloved, building yourselves up in the most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.
Even though the word ‘Trinity’ is never used in the New Testament, the teaching is clearly there,3 so much so that a non-Trinitarian doctrine would substantially alter the message of the Bible itself.
So “God is one” and “God is a Trinity”. But some people are confused about how the Persons of the Godhead relate to each other. The Bible teaches that each Person is fully God and shares all the attributes of deity.
The Father is God
This is perhaps the least contested point—all the historical heresies affirmed that the Father is God, but err in how they saw the relationship between the Persons of the Godhead, or in the identity of the other Persons. The Father is the one who speaks things into being in Genesis 1. He sent the Son in the Incarnation (John 8:42). And the Father sends the Spirit (John 14:26). The Father is clearly an appropriate object of worship (John 4:21–23).
The Son is God
Hebrews 1:3 says that Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.” Humans are created in the ‘image and likeness’ of God, meaning that we are like God in some ways, but far more than that is attributed to the Son. The Greek translated “exact imprint of his nature” is χαρακτὴρ τῆς ὑποστάσεως αὐτοῦ, (charactēr tēs hypostaseōs autou), and means basically that Jesus is exactly identical to the Father—there is no attribute of the Father that the Son does not have in equal measure. There is no way in which Jesus does not resemble the Father. Jesus teaches the same thing when He said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9), and Paul says, “In him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9). The writer of Hebrews reinforces this a few verses later when he quotes God himself, “But of the Son he says, ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever,” (Hebrews 1:8), showing that God addresses the Son also as God.
Jesus, unlike mere human beings, existed before His birth. Speaking of Jesus the Son, the Gospel of John starts out with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). He is called “the one and only (μονογενῆς, monogenēs) God who is in the bosom of the Father” (John 1:18).
Paul says, “He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 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” (Colossians 1:15–16). Anti-Trinitarians point to this verse to claim that Jesus was only a created being, even if He was exalted. But this same verse says “by him all things were created,” meaning that Jesus Himself could not have been created, or else He would come under ‘all things’.4 ‘Firstborn’ in this instance simply means that Jesus has the privilege of the firstborn, something that was very meaningful in a time when the firstborn expected to receive a double portion of the inheritance. So in this case ‘firstborn’ (Greek prototokos) does not mean ‘first created’ (Greek protoktisis), but simply denotes His superior position.
In many places, characteristics that only God can have are attributed to Jesus. Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” In John 5:26, Jesus claims, “For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in Himself.” But only God is self-existent.
Jesus is also viewed as a proper recipient of worship in the New Testament. After the Resurrection, Thomas calls Jesus, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). A righteous person who received praise due only to God would deflect it immediately (see how Paul and Barnabas reacted in Acts 14:8 ff.)—but Jesus didn’t, indicating that he thought it was proper. He even says, in effect, “You finally believe in me!” Titus 2:13 calls Jesus “our great God and Savior”, as does 1 Peter 1:1. Paul refers to “Christ, who is God over all” (Romans 9:5). Every time Jesus is worshipped in Scripture, it is cited with approval. Indeed, He demands equal honour with the Father:
… that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. (John 5:23).
The Holy Spirit is God
Some think of the Holy Spirit as a sort of impersonal, nebulous ‘force’—and many people think of spirits as ghostly ethereal beings. But the Holy Spirit is clearly a Person in Scripture (so a ‘Him’, not an ‘it’).
When Ananias and Sapphira lied about the price of the field they sold, 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? … You have not lied to man but to God” (Acts 5:4). So the Holy Spirit is equated with God. Later in the book, it’s even clearer, because the Holy Spirit uses two first person pronouns—thus there can be no doubt that He is a Person:
… the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2)
David attributes omnipresence to God’s Spirit when he says, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Psalm 139:7–8). Paul attributes omniscience to Him: “For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10).
The Bible is clear that only God can give spiritual life (1 John 3:9), but Jesus said, “unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit” (John 3:5–6). If only God can give spiritual life, and the Spirit gives spiritual life, then the Spirit must be God.
Furthermore, when we understand the Father and the Son to be fully God, that the Spirit is equally divine follows from the Trinitarian verses cited below. As Wayne Grudem explains:
Once we understand God the Father and God the Son to be fully God, then the Trinitarian expressions in verses like Matthew 28:19 (“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”) assume significance for the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, because they show that the Holy Spirit is classified on an equal level with the Father and the Son. This can be seen if we recognize how unthinkable it would have been for Jesus to say something like, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the archangel Michael”—this would give to a created being a status entirely inappropriate even to an archangel.5
Some believe that since there isn’t a verse which straightforwardly says, “Worship the Spirit” that the Spirit is not a valid object of worship. But if God is worthy of worship, and the Spirit is God, then the Spirit is worthy of worship.
The Creator is a Trinity
At creation, the Father spoke the commands that caused things to come into existence.6 Jesus was the agent of that Creation (the Logos who John talks about in John 1; also Hebrews 1:2). Speaking of Jesus (cf. Colossians 1:13), Colossians 1:16–17 says:
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. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Genesis also teaches that the Spirit of God was present and active in creation, hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). Ecclesiastes 12:1 uses the plural “Creators” although this is often masked in translation7 —it’s interpreted as a ‘plural of majesty’ by people who don’t see the Trinity in the Old Testament, but there are no other instances of ‘plurals of majesty’ other than places where the Trinity ‘has to be’ explained away.
The necessary doctrine of the Trinity
The various facets of the doctrine of the Trinity are taught clearly throughout Scripture, and the true believer will accept the doctrine of the Trinity. Throughout Church history, practically every other way of understanding the relationship between the Persons of the Godhead has been rejected as heresy. The doctrine is so interwoven with how salvation works that to reject the Trinity is tantamount to a rejection of the Gospel,8 because the alternatives violate the nature of God and/or the status of Jesus as God. So historically, those who do not believe in the Trinity have been rejected as not Christian. This is especially important to remember today, as various Trinity-rejecting sects are asking to be recognized as Christians.
Finally, it is important to understand why CMI as a creation ministry makes such a strong stand on this issue—it is because ultimately our ministry is not just about ‘design’ or about ‘a creator’, or attacking evolution. It is all about and for Jesus Christ, His glorious Gospel and the expansion of His Kingdom. And this issue of who God is, and particularly who Christ is, is inescapably vital and foundational to the Good News of salvation. Jesus said in John 8:24: “I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I am he you will die in your sins.” The ‘he’ is missing from the Greek, so literally Jesus is saying (emphasis added): “Unless you believe that I am you will die in your sins.” This is a clear reference to the deity of Jesus, for he is directly equating himself to God the Father (Ex 3:14). If we wilfully reject Jesus’ claim to deity, we in effect nullify His saving grace. It could hardly be more serious.
- Here and following, the divine name יהוה is purposely left in its transliterated state; it is also rendered YHVH, YHWH, and the Lord. Return to text.
- See Grigg, R., Who really is the god of Genesis? Creation 27(3):37–39, 2005. Return to text.
- See Sarfati, J., Islam, testimony, and the Trinity, 27 May 2012. Return to text.
- One might say that Paul meant that all things were created through Christ, except Christ Himself. But if that were the case, we might expect Paul to clarify that, as he clarified in 1 Corinthians 15:27 that the Father is not part of the ‘all things’ that are put in Christ’s subjection. Return to text.
- Grudem, W. Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), p. 237. Return to text.
- Isaiah 42:5; 2 Corinthians 4:6, remembering that theos (God) is usually used for the Father. Return to text.
- But see Young Literal Translation’s rendering, “Remember also thy Creators in days of thy youth … ” Return to text.
- Of course, this is in the case of willful rejection of the doctrine, not a case of being in error because of ignorance. Return to text.
Thank you CMI and Lita Cosner for this article. I never realised how much evidence there is for the truth of the Trinity. The "It" concept for the Holy Spirit could largely be due to the "the" before His name. Can you help us eliminate it? I think this would be helpful.
Actually, I don't think it's the 'the' as much as that we tend to think of Spirit is ethereal and immaterial. The Father and the Son also have the definite article, but this problem doesn't normally occur when we think about them.
Great article again.I see the Triune God is confusion to some people when they like to understand the Bible with their mind,which gives them more confusion, however they should have a Revelation Knowledge in their heart, because only the Holy Spirit can explain to us His Word/The Holy Bible/because He is the Writer through men/who were appointed to put His word down in writing/1Peter 2:19- 21/.
I have an illustration on the Triune God, and I believe it is easy to understand.You see, I am a woman and a wife and a mother to my children,but I am One person,/with personalities as a woman who has a job, as a wife who looks after and care for her husband with love, and as a mother to my children to care for them again with love/, but I am one fulfilling 3 "work", same with the Triune God.And Lita, you explained to us very well the Trinity.By the way, Lita, you have great anointing to write those great articles,it is a gift of God to us all.Well done, just keep on in writing,Regards, Mrs. Katalin P.
From Scripture it is apparent that God is one Being with three Persons residing in that Being. He is a Unity not a Union, a Trinity not a Trio. We can only understand what a human being is in which only one person can reside. The three Persons of the Godhead may have different roles but not different values. I try not to imagine more than the Scripture says and worship Him. I worship the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Holy Spirit as God. Bless you all!
My understanding of the Trinitarian relationship became much clearer when I use a more scientific analogy. Current findings in quantum physics states that it is possible to "split" the atom without actually "dividing" it. Each "split" portion is able to assume a different polarity (i.e., "personality") but can never be divided from each another. And what is interesting is that by means of "light" the split portions can be reunited again. If such split can be done to an atom without becoming divided, it is not impossible at all for the Omnipotent Creator Trinitarian God to have three "split personalities" yet as one unified whole God. How wonderful that God's creation of quantum physics speaks of Him to the scientific world today. No reason for us to say we cannot know Him.
As I was scaning down the comments regarding this article, I was thinking of the mathematical way of looking at the Trinity, only to see Jean P. has already mentioned it. I find the mathematical way good in that you do have three different ones equalling 1. I think many people get confused and add the three ones and thus get three, rather than 3x1=1. 1x(1Father=1)x1(1Son=1)x1(1Holy Spirit=1)=1 Trinity
Lita has neatly fulfilled CMI's role in upholding, illustrating and defending Trinitarian doctrine, but not trying to define it. Theologians can only go part of the way in doing this because "God is spirit and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (John 4:24). The truth is available to us in a correct reading of scripture (John 17:17) but the spirit aspect is open to us only through our spirits in spirit-spirit communion with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I highly recommend meditation on, firm belief in, and relevant resulting action upon the glorious promises and prayers of Jesus in John 14-17 as the best way to come to know the three persons for ourselves. Thereafter there will be no confusion whatsoever over the apparent paradox of three persons and one being. The even more wondrous aspect of the Trinity is that they invite us to share in their fellowship and union.
Dear Lita, I am very happy to see you writing on a controversial issue and to see the good use of biblical language to argue in favour for the truth. For following reasons, I do not like to be catagorised as a 'secterian' for not agreeing to the term 'Trinity' as it is not a biblical one and secondly it is too much connected with the traditional catholic understanding of the Godhead. Millions died as Martyrs as they exercised their belief according to their conscience contrary to general accepted traditional beliefs in the Middle Ages. Catagorising eventually leads to one form or another of persecution! Nevertheless I do belief in three Persons of the Godhead and I prefer to avoid denominational confusion by use of the term 'Tri-une God'. I fullheartedly agree to believing in the true nature of God as close as possible. I found alrady many years ago that the 'non-person Holy Ghost teaching' is also undermining the nature of Jesus himself ('beeing God from beginning')in order to support the wrong teaching. To support your understanding I like to add the only statement given in the bible to define the 'son-ship' of Jesus: Hebr.5:5 quotes Psalm 2:7 refering to Christs resurrection as the reason to call Jesus the 'begotten' son, emphasizing on the 'role' as a lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev.13:8, 1.Peter 1:19+20) in order to save us.
"...he who has seen Me has seen the Father..." Jn. 14:9 "Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me..." v.11
The Three Co-exist and also Coinhere simultaneously--The three-the Father, the Son, and the Spirit-are all from eternity to eternity. However in God's economical and temporal move the Three work and are manifested respectively in three consecutive stages. Do not confuse this understanding with the heresy of modalism which claims that the Father ended with the Son's coming and the Son ceased with the Spirit's coming. Even in their economical works and manifestations the Three still remain essentially in Their coexistence and coinherence.
Jude Perera, Melbourne Australia. God will bless you abundantly Lita...Many I like to say but in a very simple way, let us think this like a perfect table with tree legs. All three legs are for the table to stand with equal authority. Every thing that comes from God or Of God or By God is Godle and not sub standard. Therefor holy spirit is also God.
Johan mentions the "Hear O Israel..." passage. Even Jews will admit that the Hebrew word used for "one" means a compound one, but they insist it has nothing to do with the Trinity.
this article is so easy to understand and clearly outlined, thank you very much. i am a christian and will use it for the Doubters
When my son was small, a lesson was being presented in the Sunday School open session, using a felt board. The teacher pointed to the figure of Jesus and asked the children "Who is that?" My son shyly said, "God." The Sunday School teacher said "Oh no, dear, that's not God, it's Jesus."
I worry that in our evangelical churches we often use that sort of language, language that would lead outsiders to think we worship Jesus as distinct from God. Perhaps this error is most noticeable when we present the redeeming work of Christ on the cross as subtly 'more important' than the roles of God or the Spirit, making them different persons in the sense that different humans are different persons.
I fully accept, and revel in, the doctrine of the Trinity, but after many years of considering it I still find it a mystery that I can't penetrate intellectually. That's OK; I encounter mysteries all about me every day that I don't understand, showing that one can function perfectly well in spite of mysteries. Life would be boring without 'em.
A converted Jewish rabbi who wrote a magazine for Jews pointed out that the verse beginning "Hear, o Israel ". literally says, " the Lord,
your Gods (plural ). is one."" Arnold Fruchtenbaum was his name.
As I don,t speak or read Hebrew I have to take his word for it.
Since the ancient creeds emphasize that the Godhead is "Indivisible"
our analogies, whilst not perfect, must not divide the Godhead into 3
separate persons. Remember, Scripture states that "God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself. ". 2Cor. 5:19
In reference to your "There is One God". Mark 12:29 Jesus quotes the "Hear o Israel"
Verse 29: "And Jesus answered him, The first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord:"
Good job Lita;
No one seems to have commented on the very first words of the Bible which emphatically state that the Godhead is a plurality. Barasheet (In the beginning)bara (He created) Elohim (Gods) et (marks the object of the verb) Ha shemayim ve et ha arets. (the heavens and the earth) Sorry about the clumsy Hebrew I can write it slowly but not here obviously. What we have in this first sentence of the Bible is the Godhead acting in unity. I use the term Godhead as a counter to the 'no mentionof the word Trinity in the Bible' argument. "In Him (the Lord Jesus) dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Acts 17:29. Rom.1:20. Col. 2:9.)
It all depends on how you do your maths.
If it,s 1plus 1 plus 1 the answer is 3.
But if it,s 1x 1x 1 the answer is 1.
I note that Jesus defers to God implying that God the Father is pre-eminent eg His prayer in the Garden and on the Cross and His reference to God the Father in Him alone knowing when the "end time" will come.Even the names God the Father and God the Son indicates an "order" within the God Head also borne out in the God Head seating arrangements.What is your response to this ?
In Jesus' earthly ministry, He voluntarily submitted to the Father's will and did nothing independently. But there are various thoughts about intra-Trinitarian relationships apart from Jesus' earthly ministry, and that's not within the scope of CMI's ministry to address.
@PeterW: Hi Peter
I believe that in Scripture God Himself (the Father?) is represented by fire (burning bush, pillar of fire), cloud (pillar of cloud or smoke) and wind (e.g. 1 Kings 19, Acts 2 - the Holy Spirit). The personal experiencing of God (physically and in our hearts today) is the work of the Holy Spirit, but remember that the Spirit never functions apart/separate from the Father and the Son. I.e. the Spirit touches
my heart and draws me to accept the gospel of salvation, but it is also the Father and drawing me through the Spirit to Jesus, the only One through whom we can be saved. Father, Son and Spirit never work in isolation from each other (except possibly when Jesus was hanging on the cross and took our sins on Himself). We can experience the Holy Spirit in a diversity of ways (cf. 1 Cor.12), but it is all for one purpose: to empower us to be witnesses to the truth of Jesus the Anointed (Acts 1:8), to glorify Jesus (John 16:13-14).
Lita, keep these great articles coming. In light of this information, how do you view Oneness groups, such as the United Pentecostal Church? They reject the Trinity, yet claim to accept the deity of Christ. You mentioned modalist groups briefly. Is modalism so far removed from the Biblical God that we may question a modalist's salvation?
Modalism has been condemned historically by the Christian church as a heresy, and it would seem arrogant to go against the view of the church for nearly 2,000 years. In Scripture, we see intra-Trinitarian relationships, which would not be possible if the Father was the Son was the Holy Spirit.
Hello and thank-you for this article. I found the following to be a great emphasis for the need to be 'well armed' regarding God's "trinitarian nature": an ex-Jehovah's Witness I met at a Christian convention commented that it was only when confronted by a Christian who knew their Bible was she made to pause and question her (false) beliefs. At your front door, I have found the typical JW line to be more about legal argument than understanding (some of) God's nature. To that end, I would like to add my favourite approach: How many First's and Last's are there? (Ask all of this gently and respectfully!) Then look at Rev 1v8 followed by Rev 2v8. Clearly the same title is applied to God and Jesus. Most door-knockers beat a hurried retreat at this point. For those who remain, look at Rev 22v12 and v13 - simplest explanation is they are the same speaker - the Trinity - what reason is there to contrive they are different speakers? There will be many more examples. If they appeal to logic questions such as "How can someone be in 2 places at once?" I refer them to my high-school physics example of an experiment being able to show an electron is a particle, and another to show it is a wave. A diffraction-grating experiment can show the same electron passed 2 different points of the grating at the same time! If God can create such mysteries as electrons (let alone Quantum Physics) yet we can use mathematics to describe and predict aspects of this part of creation, then how much more can the Bible be used to accurately describe the aspects of GOD he has decided to show us, despite them seeming so strange to our limited plane of existence.
"We easily accept that water exists in three distinct phases, ie ice, water and steam, but it's all H2O. It's a rather simple analogy to illustrate a complex concept, but it works for me."
First off, thank you Lita for writing this very helpful article. I always look forward to your articles because you are so knowledgeable and have a real gift for explaining theological topics.
The water analogy is probably the most commonly used analogy for the Trinity. I'll be the first to admit that I've used it quite a bit myself before I really thought about it. Lita is correct, it does teach modalism.
An easy way to think of it is this: water can indeed exist as liquid, ice or vapor. However, this is all temperature dependent. Ice can melt to become liquid, or liquid can be heated to become vapor. But as far as the nature of God is concerned, the Father cannot become the Son and the Son cannot become the Holy Spirit. Therefore, the analogy is fatally flawed.
We have the equivalent of multiple computers connected by the internet, working as one but separate, like banks, store chains, etc. What is the problem understanding this?
All analogies of the Trinity fall short in some way. This one doesn't do justice to the oneness of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit don't just operate under the same 'brand', they are completely united.
For further explanation of the Holy Trinity, might I suggest the Athenasian Creed? It is the third of the three great ecumenical creeds of the Christian church.
Great article. It is so very important for the church to be defending the Biblical, triune presentation of God, rather than a generic "creator". Skeptics often argue about the supposed illogic of the Trinitarian representation of God, almost always conflating the attributes of the creation with the "wholly other" attributes of the Creator. These vapid arguments create an apologetic opportunity to present the Bible as God's revelation of Himself to us, and the fact that He is indeed triune. Another interesting apologetic discussion is a philosophical one. In the history of philosophy, the keenest minds (Plato, Aristotle, etc.) have never been able to resolve the so-called "unity-diversity" problem. Unbelieving philosophy has never been able to bring these concepts together in a coherent way. This philosophical problem is resolved in the Trinitarian nature of God, where diversity and unity are equally ultimate and eternally perfect. We see evidence in creation, at the very least, of plurality in the being of God by observing unity and diversity in natural revelation. It reminds us that "...his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made." Romans 1:20. Let us give praise to the unfathomable nature of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, for they are One!
Associates for Biblical Research
May God bless you for this article. It is very helpful.
'In Genesis 1:26 He says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” '
Somehow, I have always thought this was God the Father talking to the angels. Thinking about it now, it makes more sense that it was God the Father speaking to Christ and the Holy Spirit. If it was addressing the angels, that would mean man was made partly in the image of angels, not entirely of God, which seems both confusing and less than Divine.
Can you add anything to that thought?
Secondly, the article explains: 'Some think of the Holy Spirit as a sort of impersonal, nebulous ‘force’—and many people think of spirits as ghostly ethereal beings. But the Holy Spirit is clearly a Person in Scripture (so a ‘Him’, not an ‘it’).'
I have had experiences with a strong righteous force, which felt like a powerful wind blowing through me, and also with an embracing comforting presence, and have thought these were experiences of the Holy Spirit. How exactly would you describe the Holy Spirit?
In gratitude and fellowship, Peter Warner.
The 'Trinity' is simply an abreviation for Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
They are like a team of three like-minded individuals working together in perfect harmony for the same end.
In this case, and since the authority is shared, the team as a whole is called God, as per Genesis 1:26-27
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness..." So God created man in his own image
Robert, I'm not sure if your statement gives quite enough emphasis to the 'oneness' of God. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are so unified that Christians are baptized in their name, not names (Matthew 28:19). Jesus is so unified with the Father that to see Jesus is to see the Father (John 14:9).
In these days we live in, as you folk at CMI know only too well, Bible-believing Christians are being ceaselessly attacked on every side by liberalists and those who simply reject the truth of God's Word. And the doctrine of the Trinity is indeed an integral part of the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ! Far too often, these attackers claim to be "Christians". What a tremendous blessing it is to know for certain that our Lord will never leave Himself without witnesses to His truth. The plain truth, as it stands in Scripture! With your firm uncompromising stand for God's Word, you (our friends and mentors at CMI) are such a vital part of that witness. Please keep up the good work and stand strong in God's strength - so very many of His children are praying for you and your ministry. And take courage, as you remember we are deeply grateful for the work CMI is doing for our beloved Lord and for us as well!
Muslims and Jehovah's Witnesses reject the concept of the Trinity and their religions are flourishing while Christianity is in terminal decline.
Christianity is still the largest religion in the world; but numbers have never been the best measure for truth. The truth is true no matter how few believe it. However, I would not accept your claim that Christianity is in terminal decline. While it may seem that way in the Western world, in Asia and the Global South, Christianity is growing and flourishing.
We easily accept that water exists in three distinct phases, ie ice, water and steam, but it's all H2O. It's a rather simple analogy to illustrate a complex concept, but it works for me.
This is a common illustration, but actually it is flawed (it's actually an illustration of the Modalist heresy!) Most analogies for the Trinity, if you look closely, actually describe a non-orthodox view of the Trinity.
Thank you Lita. Clear, concise and to the point.
I believe that CMI is one of - if not THE - most effective evangelical instrument in the Western world today, because of its foundation in the truth and accuracy of the whole of the Scripture from the very first verse.
May God continue to bless you and use you mightily with His power!
Thanks for explaining this, although I still don't think I fully understand. A point I find confusing (other than 3 separate beings being the same being) is that you claim the Father created all things, i.e. 'spoke them into existence'. In the next chapter you claim that Jesus created all things. How am I to understand this given that they are separate beings with separate roles? Thanks.
It is important to realize that the three Persons of the Trinity are distinct from one another, but utterly unified at the same time. So the Father is the Creator (He spoke everything into existence), but the Son is also the Creator, the agent of the Father's Creation.
Very good article Lita. To understand that God is triune is the only way to make sense of human relationships. If we mirror the image of God then we mirror a God who was in personal relationship before men and women were created.