“We believe in the one living and true God, both holy and loving, eternal, unlimited in power, wisdom and goodness, the Creator and Preserver of all things. Within this unity there are three persons of one essential nature, power and eternity — the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”
It seems like I’ve had issues with the doctrine of the trinity my whole life.
From a young age my dad shared his concerns about this formulation that seemed to be illogical. I understood and absorbed his hesitation and my doubts grew as I wrestled through youth group and into Bible College.
The doctrine of the Trinity just never made sense to me but it seems like nearly every other orthodox Christian throughout history believed it, so I kept trying. What made it possible for other people to so easily accept Trinity as basic fact? What did they know that I didn’t? Or did they just not care?
After years of doubting, asking, and reading the Bible, here’s what I saw:
- There were clearly three distinct persons talked about in the Bible…the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. They interacted with each other and all showed up at the same time sometimes so it wasn’t just one being coming out with three different masks.
- Each of them has uniquely divine characteristics, does uniquely divine stuff, and is worshiped as God and the Bible seems okay with this.
- Despite this, the Bible is abundantly clear that there is only one God.
I knew from experience that God was real and trusted the Bible so, even though I didn’t understand the doctrine, through lots of wrestling and uneasiness, I eventually came to accept that there is one God, with three “persons,” that are all fully God and cannot be separated from one another.
But I still don’t really like it.
The turning point for me was accepting something as true even when I couldn’t understand it. For a generally logical person this goes against my nature. Truth is not determined by my ability to comprehend something but by God’s revelation.
In this post I’m going to lay out the basic doctrine and share a couple of helpful videos. Next week I’ll talk a little about some common heresies (and bad analogies). The following week we’ll dive a little deeper into “ontological equality” and “economic roles” within the trinity, and I’ll share a little bit about what the idea of “the eternal subordination of the son” means and why it matters to you (especially if you are a woman, are married to a woman, or work with a woman).
Before you read below, it might be helpful to check out this Bible Project Video:
Where We Find the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible
The word “Trinity” isn’t used in the Bible, but the idea is definitely there. If the doctrine of the Trinity was a table, these would be the legs (it appears to be a five-legged table, don’t worry, it’s fine):
- In the Bible we see three distinct persons: The Father, Son and Holy Spirit
- They are all given divine titles
- They all have uniquely divine attributes
- They all do uniquely divine things
- Yet there is only one God
As Christians throughout the ages have viewed these truths they basically came to this conclusion: that makes no sense, let’s just admit that and create a new label because none of our current labels fit.
Except, sometimes, they try to convince you that it does make sense and then you begin to feel like you’re crazy. It doesn’t have to make sense to be true. This isn’t anti-intellectual, it just means that God is bigger, more intricate, and more than our minds can comprehend. Certainly, it seems reasonable that we, as his creatures, couldn’t fully explain or understand the awesomeness of the God who created all things. So this thing that God has revealed about himself isn’t against reason, it’s just beyond reason.
Let’s look at the legs:
1. In the Bible We See Three Distinct Persons
As we move from the Old Testament into the New Testament the distinction between the three members of the Trinity becomes more apparent until it is explicitly stated. It is hinted at in the Old Testament, for example, when God speaks using “we” and “us” (Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7; Isaiah 6:8). There are passages when at least two distinct people are spoken of and the titles “God” and “Lord” are used of both (Psalm 45:6-7, see also Hebrews 1:8, Psalm 110:1 see also Matthew 22:41-46).
The distinction is explicitly stated in places like Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” and other places where three members of the Trinity are listed together (Matthew 3:16-17, 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, 1 Peter 1:2, Jude 20-21). Of course, the fact that there are three of them isn’t that profound. It gets complicated when we declare that each is fully and equally God.
2. They Are All Given Divine Titles
They are all called God. “God” is the Father’s default title. He’s who we think of most often when we hear or read the name, “God.” The Son is called God explicitly at least twice: John 1:1 ” In the beginning was the word and the word was God” and in John 20:28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” The Holy Spirit is commonly referred to as “The Spirit of God” and in Acts 5:3-4 lying to the Holy Spirit is equated to lying to God (side note: you should definitely not lie to God).
2. They All have Uniquely Divine Attributes
I’m only picking a few attributes here for sake of space but you could find a ton more by checking our a systematic theology book or searching the internet.
Omnipresence (God’s ability to be all places) is ascribed to the Father (Jeremiah 23:34), the Son (Matthew 18:20), and the Holy Spirit (Psalm 139:20).
Omniscience (God’s knowing of all the things) is ascribed to the Father (Jeremiah 17:10), the Son (Revelation 2:23), and the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:11).
Eternality (Always existing in all time) is ascribed to the Father (Psalm 90:2), the Son (John 1:2; Revelation 1:8, 17), and the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 9:14).
No one other than God can be everywhere, know everything, or exist in the beginning and forever.
3. They All do Uniquely Divine Things
There are some things that it seems only God can do. Here are two quick examples of divine things that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit do together.
All three were involved in Creation. This is important because it means they were Creators, not created; which makes them distinct from everything and everyone else (Father: Genesis 1:1, Psalm 102:25; Son: Colossians 1:16; Holy Spirit: Genesis 1:2).
All three have distinct roles but work together for the salvation of humanity. The Father elects (Ephesians 1:4), the Son redeems (Ephesians 1:7), and the Holy Spirit seals (Ephesians 1:13).
4. Yet there is only one God
In a previous post I talked about the importance of the oneness of God. So here I’ll just share a list of verses (in both the Old and New Testaments) that declare there is only one God, even though three persons are clearly talked about.
- Deuteronomy 6:4-7
- Exodus 20:2-3
- James 2:19
- Isaiah 45:5-6
- 1 Timothy 2:5
- Romans 3:30
The Bible clearly declared and displayed three persons as divine while also clearly declaring there is one God. I have come to accept that the Bible does indeed declare these two, seemingly irreconcilable facts, and does not try to reconcile them or explain them away. And so, rather than trying to understand, I’ve chosen to accept and live in the tension that we’re supposed to be reasonable and that some things are beyond reason.
WHY IT MATTERS
If you’ve read this far, you’re probably asking, “So what?” and I don’t blame you unless you’re inherently interested in the intricacies of theology this could be really boring and seem pointless. But it’s not. And here’s why: If you want to know God and be in relationship with him (this is what we were designed for) you have to get to know God on his own terms. You have to come to see him as who he says he is and live in that reality. If you believe he is something different than what he really is you can never really, deeply know him.
Diving into doctrine can help us know God and relate to him in ways that prayer, worship, and even his presence doesn’t automatically do. Of course, if we only focus on doctrine than we miss out on the incredible knowledge that comes through prayer, worship, and the experience of his presence. Don’t neglect any of them. These are ALL important paths to get to know God and to pursue his heart.
- The Trinity shows us that God is inherently relational. He relates to himself and we, being made in his image, are designed to relate to him and others.
- The general pattern of prayer in the Bible is to pray to the Father through the Son and in the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 2:18).
- Jesus’s humanity and deity have some very specific implications:
- God humbled himself to come and be with us. He did not send an ambassador, a surrogate, he himself came and entered our world, took our sin, and walked with us.
- Jesus could only be a substitute for our sin if he was human and could only die for all of us if he was infinite (one righteous man could die for one sinner but one righteous God-man could die for an infinite amount of sinners).
This is a common picture used to describe the trinity. It doesn’t really help me but it might help you (it’s also used in one of the videos below)