The Trinity's Revelation
The Doctrine of the Trinity is best explained not with an analogy or tangible example, but by how Scripture deals with the Trinity’s revelation. All too often a well-meaning Christian endeavors to explain the Trinity with an analogy such as the three characteristics of water, (liquid, ice, and steam) or by trying to parallel the different parts of an egg, but at some point every tangible comparison fails to completely exemplify the triune God of Scripture. A Christian should endeavor to understand the Trinity in light of the uniqueness of each divine individual person and their incommunicable attributes, but also realize that the Trinity is ultimately a mystery beyond man’s comprehension.[i]
There are three different types of evidences that Scripture uses to show the Trinity, first is the unity of God, second is the Deity of each of the three, and third is that the three are indeed one.[ii] God revels Himself in the Old Testament as one God. Deuteronomy 4:6 states that “The Lord our God, the Lord is one” and Exodus 20:3 records God as saying “You shall have no other gods before me.” These verses explain that God speaks of Himself in the singular, and even while the Trinity is plural in their persons, He is only one God. The New Testament confirms this in 1 Corinthians 8:6 where Paul explains that “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.”
While there is the unity of God, there is also the deity of each part of the Trinity. Jesus is equal in divinity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, both from His words directly and from Scripture’s authors. In John 10:30, Jesus states “I and the Father are one.” Paul and Timothy also wrote in Philippians 2:6-7 that “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.” Scripture conveys not only the deity of Jesus, but also His equality within the Godhead. John also recorded that Jesus was in the beginning, and through Jesus all things were created.[iii] Scripture records that the Holy Spirit is equally God as well. As detailed in the book of Acts, Ananias and Sapphira held back a portion of their offering and lied about it.[iv] Luke recorded this interaction and Peter’s words that their lie was to the Holy Spirit which was equated to lying to God.[v] Scripture also speaks of the Trinity in the “baptismal formula”.[vi] Found in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus’ words are recorded as directing His followers to “baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. While Jesus uses the word “name” which is singular, it is describing the one Trinity, and also implied is that no part of the Trinity is suggested to be inferior to another.[vii] 2 Corinthians 13:14 also speaks to the deity of the Holy Spirit, in that all three persons of the Trinity are linked together, and one is not given any apparent priority over the other.
While the understanding of the Trinity is based in large part from the writings in the New Testament, the Trinity is evident throughout Scripture and demonstrates that the three are indeed one. The puritans stated that “what was in the Old Testament concealed is in the New Testament revealed”.[viii] The point of this statement is that even while the Trinity may have appeared to be concealed in the Old Testament, it was still present.[ix] As early as the first chapter in Genesis, God reveled his Trinitarian makeup in verse 26 by speaking “Let us make man in our own image”. It is evidenced that God is one in unity, but was speaking in relation to the multiple persons within the Godhead. Further through the Old Testament, Psalm 110:1 indicates that God is speaking to another part of the Trinity when David recorded “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at my right hand”. David recorded God speaking of Jesus and His place at the throne of God.[x] B.B. Warfield wrote that while never specifically stated, the New Testament, “is Trinitarian to the core; all of its teaching is built on the assumption of the trinity… its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy, and confident.”[xi]
What Scripture records is a singular God with three unique persons, who embodies certain characteristics important in the understanding of a Christian to the relationship with God. Louis Berkhof stated that “the operations of the three persons is marked by a definite order” and that order is foundational to understanding the relationship between the persons of the Trinity.[xii] God the Father is seen as the person from whom all things were created; Jesus Christ is the Son who put on flesh and dwelt among men both as fully man and fully God; and the Holy Spirit is through whom the Trinity becomes personal to the believer.[xiii] These multiple persons and character traits are evidenced nowhere in Scripture more overtly that at the baptism of Jesus, when all three persons of the Trinity are simultaneously present.[xiv] This particular construct is of great benefit to the believer, because while the Trinity is one God, God and Jesus inhabit their own forms; Jesus his own body that bears the scars of His crucifixion[xv] and God his own form as evidenced by His seat on His throne[xvi] and His passing by Moses on the mountain.[xvii] The Holy Spirit, however, is not described in the Bible as having His own form, (save His movement descending like a dove at Jesus’ baptism) but is described as indwelling the believer, thus giving a personal attachment to and relationship with God in each Christian and an ability to commune directly with Him. It is this divine mystery that is the blessing of the Trinity. Christians worship a single God, but have three distinct personalities through which to visualize and interact.
[i] Gregory Alan Thornbury, “The Doctrine of the Trinity” (MP4 Video of lecture, Union University, Jackson, Tennessee), accessed May 21, 2016,http://aumedia.andersonuniversity.edu/MoM/CHR504_Class2_Part2.mp4.
[ii] Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology, 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, ©2013), 293.
[iii] John 1:1-3
[iv] Acts 5:3-4
[v] Erickson, 297.
[vi] Ibid., 784.
[vii] Ibid., 299.
[viii] Thornbury, “The Doctrine of the Trinity”.
[xi] Merrill C. Tenney, The Zondervan Encyclopedia of the Bible, rev., full-color ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, ©2009), 941.
[xii] Thornbury, “The Doctrine of the Trinity”.
[xiii] Erickson, 772.
[xiv] Ibid., 785.
[xv] John 20:27
[xvi] Psalm 11:4
[xvii] Exodus 34:6