Everything you want to know about the Trinity
- Where in the world does this teaching of the Trinity come from?
- Is it biblical?
- Did someone make it up?
- Should you believe in it?
In this post, we hope to take a few moments to show you what the Bible says about the Trinity. We also want to clarify what the word trinity means, and if you should believe in it.
Two Key Biblical Beliefs on the Trinity
There is only one God. The Bible makes this truth abundantly clear, and we want to look at some passages that will help us understand this truth.
- Read Isaiah 44:6, 8 and 1st Corinthians 8:4. How many Gods exist based on these verses?
- Read Isaiah 43:10. How many Gods have existed and will ever exist?
- After reading these passages, how many God’s do you think the Bible wants us to believe in?
Three persons are called God.
- Read John 20:28. Is Jesus called God?
- Read Colossians 2:9. Is Jesus God?
- 1st John 5:20? Is Jesus called God?
- Read Acts 5:3-4. Is the Spirit called God?
- Read John 4:24 and fill in the blank: God is ____________, and we must worship Him in ________________.
*Notice: God “is Spirit” not God “has a spirit”.
- Read 1st Peter 1:2. Is the Father God?
- After reading these passages have you seen that the Father, Jesus and the Spirit are called God?
Warning against False Beliefs
NOTE: Take some time to personally acknowledge what the Bible has said so far: #1 there is only One God and #2 The Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are called God. Don’t draw any conclusions beyond these two points. Below we have listed three common false assumptions people accept when they draw premature conclusions about God from points 1 and 2. We have also identified the contradictions these three false beliefs encounter with the Bible. Our hope is that you avoid them.
False Belief #1: Plural Gods (Polythiesm or Tritheism)
This belief acknowledges that Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and the Father are God. This belief wrongly concludes that there must be more than one God. (Tritheism=three Gods and Polytheism=several gods). The Bible plainly teaches there is only One.
Have you found the Bible emphatically stating in section 1, “There is only one God”?
False Belief #2: Modalism
This is the belief that there is only one God and this one God morphs into different forms of God. For example, this belief says God the Father changes into Jesus and back to the Father. This is not Biblical. The Bible teaches there is only one God who exists in three persons at the same exact time at every given moment. Matthew 3:16-17 gives a good example. At Jesus’ baptism, the Father speaks and the Spirit descends like a dove. All three members of the Trinity are together at one moment. God doesn’t morph; He exists as all three persons. Remember point number 2 in section 1.
Read Matthew 3:16-17. Do you see the Father, Son and Spirit in the same place at the same time? Does this passage show us that the Father, Son, and Spirit are separate persons?
False Belief #3: Subordinationism
This belief states that even though Jesus and the Spirit are called God, they are not god in the same way the Father is God. This belief says the Father is the highest God and therefore the only true God. The problem with this view is that the Bible disagrees. Jesus taught that He and the Father were equal and one in being (see verses below).
What Does Philippians 2:6 say about Jesus and the Father? What does John 14:9 and John 10:30-33 teach us about Jesus’ equality with the Father?
Drawing Biblical Conclusions
What the Bible truly teaches us is that God is a Trinitarian God. This means there is one eternal God who exists in three equal persons. When we examine the Bible, we can plainly see there is only one God in three persons. Recall points #1 and #2 on page 1.
- Consider the very first chapter in the Bible, Genesis 1.
- Read Genesis 1:26. Who makes man in His image? (Your answer should be a two letter word.) ___ ___.
- Next Read Genesis 1:27. Who makes man in His image? (Your answer should be a three letter Word) ___ ___ ___.
Note: In Genesis 1:26-27 you find God being referenced in plural form in verse 26 and in the singular in verse 27. If you read Genesis 1:1-3 you will see the Spirit over the waters and the Father speaking to create. Two persons of the one God are present. If you were to read John 1:1-4 it starts the same as Genesis 1. It tells us that Jesus was present with the Father during creation and that later Jesus became flesh in John 1:14. In addition, Isaiah 44:24 says, God alone created, while Colossians 1:15-16 states that Jesus created. All of this demonstrates to us, one God created the world as a three part being.
- This teaching on one eternal God in three equal persons carries on throughout the rest of the Bible.
- Read Matthew 28:19- It says to baptize disciples in the name of the ____________, _____________, and _____________.
Note: The Bible says we are to worship only one God. Yet, the Bible says we are to be baptized in the name of three persons. Why would we conduct a worship ritual for three persons when we are to only worship one God? The answer is because these three persons are one God. Notice this passage also says for us to be baptized in the “name”. It does not say “names”. It lists a plurality of names but only states it in the singular word “name” because they are three persons in one being.
Questions about the Trinity
Where does the Word Trinity Originate?
The word “Trinity” cannot be found in the Bible. However, what we do find is that the Trinity is a biblical teaching. A man named Tertullian invented the word “Trinity”. He lived during the 2nd century. Tertullian invented the word “trinity” so we would have a concise and simplified way to describe God as God described Himself in the Bible.
We often look for simplified words to help us describe God so that we can better comprehend Him. Since God is more complex in His nature than humankind, we may find it complicated to understand Him. Therefore, the word “Trinity” was invented to help us better understand God. Did you know, this is not the only word we have invented to help us understand God? If you study the biblical nature of God you will hear words like monotheism, omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent. None of these words are found in the Bible, but their teachings certainly are. No Christian will argue against a God that is more powerful than all else; yet, omnipotent means “all powerful”. This begs the question? If the word omnipotent is not found in the Bible, should you and I say that it is ungodly to call God “omnipotent”? Certainly not! In fact calling God omnipotent can be helpful. The same is true for the word omniscient which means “God knows everything” and omnipresent which means “God is present everywhere”. These words help us see God in a simplistic and biblical way. These words help finite beings (like you and I) better comprehend the eternal being (God). Tertullian was merely the first man to simplify the teachings of the Trinity into one word. In Latin he described God as, “Tres Personae, Una Substantia” which means “three persons in one substance”. Therefore, our only concern when using a simplified word to describe God is “do people truly understand what such a word means?”
Remember: The word Trinity is not in the Bible, but its teaching is biblical.
Understanding and Illustrating the Trinity
God’s nature is far more complex than our own. As people, we find it easier to understand God through the ways He relates to us. We can easily understand a God that is gracious, merciful, patient, or loving, because we possess these character traits. However, when God is described as eternal, omnipotent, omniscient, or omnipresent, we have a more difficult time conceiving what these words mean because we cannot relate to them on a personal level. We are confined to our finite knowledge of an infinite being. The same is true with the word trinity. Nothing in nature can fully relate to a triune God. However, we do possess something within our nature that helps us understand the trinity. Let’s take some time to look at an illustration so we may better understand and relate to the trinity.
Read the verse below and note the underlined words: 1 Thessalonians 5:23 “May … the God of peace, sanctify you …. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
God created you with three parts. Based on the verse above, you have a body, soul, and spirit (see underlined). Consider this, in Genesis 1:26 it says that God created you in “His image”. God made you as a multi-part being. The point is, I hope all of us see ourselves as one being, yet we must also recognize that we have multi-parts. Much like the teaching of the trinity says God is one (Isaiah 44:6, 8) yet three persons. Have you ever considered your spirit and body to be separate parts of one? One day, your body will be separated from your spirit. Your spirit will go into an eternal world and your body will be on earth. If you were created as one person, how in the world can you be divided when you die? Your one being will be separated into parts. Now consider this, one day God promises to unite your body and your spirit back together (1 Corinthians 15:42-58). Isn’t that amazing? To think that you are a multi-part being currently living as one being, and in the future you will be divided, yet it is all you. That is similar to the Trinity. The Bible tells us that God is three in one (Deuteronomy 6:4). The word “Trinity” expresses the “unity” or oneness of God and the “tri” or threeness of God. Who would have thought that in your very nature you could find a relatable illustration of the Trinity by a God who made you in His image?
What does the phrase “Son of God” mean?
Mark 1:1, Jesus is called “Son of God”. Does the word “son” mean Jesus was born from a Father? As you read in the New Testament you see the phrase “Son of” repeated often. Consider the way the New Testament uses the phrase “Son of” in other passages: Barnabas is called “the Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36). James and John are called the “Sons of Thunder”. Judas is called the “Son of Perdition”, and Perdition means hell (Mark 3:17; John 17:12). Does this mean encouragement, thunder and hell all had children? NO! It means that each of these men represented the essence of the noun attached to the phrase “son of”. This means Barnabas was not born from encouragement but that Barnabas is encouraging. James and John were not born from thunder. However, if you wanted to know what thunder looked like in a human being you could look at their example. The phrase “son of perdition” does not mean Judas was born from hell but, he holds the nature of hell. When Jesus is called the “Son of God” (Jn. 3:18), this does not mean Jesus was born from God. It means Jesus holds God’s nature. In fact the Bible says He is “the exact representation” of the Father in Colossians 2:9. When you look at Jesus, you see God the Father. Jesus even said “he who has seen Me has seen the Father” (Jn. 14:9), They are one (Jn. 10:30, 33).
Consider Jesus as He claimed to be the Son of God before the Jewish leaders. The High Priest demanded of Jesus, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God”. “Yes, it is as you say,’ Jesus replied. ‘But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven”. The Jewish leaders responded by accusing Jesus of blasphemy (Matt.26:64-66). Later, before Pontius Pilate, “The Jews insisted, ‘We have a law, and according to that law He must die, because He claimed to be the Son of God’” (John 19:7). The Jewish leaders wanted to kill Jesus because the Jews knew to be the Son of God is to claim to be God. Therefore, Jesus was charged with blasphemy and crucified according to Jewish law (Lev. 24:15). Hebrews 1:3expresses clearly, Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory…the exact representation of His being.”
The Nicene Creed
Did the early church go apostate by the time the Nicene Creed was written in 325 A.D.?
The Nicene Creed was written 300 years after Jesus, but it was not corrupted. The Nicene Creed represented a time in history when the Christian church was able to centrally gather together without fear of persecution. In the 1st century, the church began facing heavy persecution when Emperor Nero started hanging Christians on poles and lighting them on fire in order to illuminate his personal garden. The persecution of Christians lasted for 3 centuries. After Constantine legalized Christianity under the Edict of Milan (4th century), the Christian church had an opportunity to gather without fear of death. The Edict of Milan led to the release of several Christian leaders from jail. Soon after, these leaders gathered together in Nicaea. These 200+ leaders at Nicaea bore the scars of persecution. They had been imprisoned, tortured, and beaten. Saint Nicholas, (aka Santa Claus), was one of those former imprisoned men who attended the Nicene meetings. Some were blind because of persecution, and others had suffered torture that left them lame. These men were not the kind of men that compromised on their beliefs. They were not afraid to stand for Jesus by taking a stand against Roman leaders. When they gathered together at Nicaea, they gathered to reiterate and articulate the core belief of the Christian faith. It’s important to remember, that the leaders at Nicaea didn’t come up with a doctrine at this gathering, they simply reaffirmed in a central place what the church had been teaching for hundreds of years under persecution. The Emperor Constantine could not influence the creed, because the creedal meeting was led by men who stood up to Rome and were not afraid to die for their faith. Emperors didn’t detour them. The Bible clearly articulates the Christian faith, and 1st century Christian leaders had written down the doctrine of Christianity. Now, thanks to the Emperor, leaders were finally able to meet together in a central location to articulate their creed. (For more info on early Christian leaders, read about Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp of Smyrna, or Clement of Rome. All are from 1st Century.)
What does “only Begotten” mean? (See John 3:16)
John is the only New Testament writer that says Jesus is the “only begotten” (John 3:16). “Only” means there is no one else like him. He is the only one. The word only is attached to begotten, so to fully answer why “only” is used, we have to find out what “begotten” means. The word “begotten” in Greek (μονογενής) means of the same kind or class. This verse is saying that Jesus is the only person that is in the same class or kind as God. Do you know how Jesus can be of the only kind or class with the Father? It is because He is God. Jesus is called the “only begotten” because he is the only one that has God’s nature within Him. This is why Jesus can say things like “He who has seen me, has seen the Father (Jn 14:9)”. This is why Colossians 2:9 tells us that in Jesus “dwells the fullness of God in bodily form”. This is also why Hebrews 1:3 says Jesus “is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” You cannot be exactly like God without being God. Humans may be created in God’s image, but only Jesus is exactly like God. John 1:1 tells us that Jesus was with God and is God, and John 1:14 tells us that He became flesh and lived with us. This makes Jesus the only human to be begotten of God because He is God in the flesh. No other human being will ever be like Him. He is Unique and as God He is to be worshipped (John 20:28).
Definition: One eternal God exists in three distinct and equal persons (Father, Son, and Spirit).
Only One God: Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:21; 46:9; Exodus 15:11; 20:3; Deuteronomy 4:35; 32:39; 1 Samuel 2:2; 1 Kings 8:60; 1st Corinthians 8:4-6; Ephesians 4:6; and James 2:19
Father is God: 1 Corinthians 8:6; Galatians 1:1; Ephesians 6:23; Philippians 2:11; Colossians 1:3; Colossians 3:17; 1 Thessalonians 1:1
Jesus is God: Isaiah 9:6; 45:21; John 1:1-4,14; John 20:28; Romans 9:5; Colossians 2:9; Hebrews 1:8; 1st John 5:20
Spirit is God: Acts 5:3-4; John 4:24; Luke 24:39
Father, Son and Spirit are distinct/separate: Matthew 3:16-17; Mark 9:7-9; Hebrews 1:8; Isaiah 48:16, Cross reference Luke 4:14-19 w/Isaiah 61:1
Father, Son and Spirit are equal: Philippians 2:5; Matthew 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14; John 10:30-33. John 14:16 says, “And I will pray to the Father, and He shall give you another Comforter, that He may abide with you forever”. Jesus is speaking and calling Himself a comforter and saying He will ask the Father to send “another Comforter”. The important phrase to focus on is the one I have bolded it. The reason this phrase is important is because the full definition of the word does not translate well for us from Greek to English. The word ἵνα, pronounced “hina”, means of the former significance. What Jesus is saying is that I am praying to the Father to send you the Holy Spirit, and His significance as comforter is as significant as the former comforter meaning Himself (Jesus). In one statement Jesus is saying He is sending the Holy Spirit because He is equal to Jesus.
Father, Son and Spirit are eternal: Psalm 90:2, John 8:58-59, Exodus 3:14, Hebrews 13:8, Revelation 22:13
Father Son and Spirit are one: Genesis 1:26-27; John 10:30-33; Matt 28:19
For further reading, see the Trinitarian benediction in 2nd Corinthians 13:14. These are not the only places in scripture describing One God existing eternally in three equal persons. However, these passages certainly help us see how scripture communicates the Trinity to us so we can see God for who He is.
Additionally, it is always helpful to remember that while we call the Father, Son, and Spirit persons, this does not mean they have to have physical bodies. In fact, the only person of the Godhead that has a physical body is Jesus and that did not happen until He became flesh (John 1:14). The Bible plainly tells us that God is Spirit (John 4:24). Notice, it does not say God has a spirit but that He is a Spirit. In Luke 24:39 Jesus says “a spirit does not have flesh and bones.”
Therefore after reading biblical passages about God, the definition of the Trinity is: One eternal God exists in three distinct and equal persons (Father, Son, and Spirit). Said another way God is One Being in three.