GOD IS … A TRINITY

THE TRINITY

GOD THE FATHER, GOD THE SON, GOD THE HOLY SPIRIT

The doctrine of the Trinity (Tri-unity) sets Christianity apart from every other religion, including Judaism. Even though the word Trinity is not used in the Bible, it is progressively revealed in the Word of God. In the Old Testament the Trinity is suggested or implied, but it is clearly taught in the New Testament. It is a vital doctrine based on how God has chosen to reveal Himself in His Word, the Bible. Whilst it may be a difficult concept for us to comprehend with our finite minds, the Trinity is a vital part of what we believe.

Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-English.svgThe essence of the doctrine of the Trinity is that God exists as three persons and that each person is fully God. The question that immediately arises is , how can there be one God and yet three persons? On the one hand there are several Scriptures that teach that the Father is God, that the Son is God and that the Holy Spirit is God. Yet on the other hand there are several scriptures that teach that there is one God. How do we find and maintain the truth in the tension between these scriptures?

Much of the doctrine of the Trinity will always remain a mystery for us, but we find and maintain the truth by faith in God, in His Word and in the way He has chosen to reveal Himself, however difficult it might be to understand. In this session we will be looking at the following:

  1. The Trinity suggested or implied in the Old Testament;
  2. The Trinity revealed in the New Testament;
  3. The Trinity:
    • God is three persons;
    • Each person is God;
    • There is only one God;
  4. The distinctions in the Trinity and;
  5. The importance and application of the Trinity.
  1. The Trinity suggested/implied in the Old Testament

In several passages in the Old Testament we find that it is suggested or implied that God is more than one person.

Genesis 1:26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…..

What is meant by the plurals of “us” and “our”? According to Wayne Grudem the Jewish rabbis over the ages have puzzled over these plurals. The Hebrew word used is “Elohiym” and means a plurality of Gods.[1] Even though some have used the “royal we” argument like when a king would say “It seemed fair to us”, this was never part of the Hebrew language or custom.[2] The most likely explanation for the use of the words “us” and “our” is that this must have been some form of intra-Trinitarian conversation.

The plurality of God is also implied in the following OT passages:

Genesis 1:1-3 In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. 2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. 3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. [3]

The Hebrew plural for God is also used in Psalm 45:6.[4]

The distinct personhood of the Holy Spirit is also implied in the following OT passages:

Isaiah 48:16 …And now the Lord GOD has sent me, and his Spirit.

Isaiah 63:10   But they rebelled and grieved his Holy Spirit; …

Hosea 1:7  But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the LORD their God….

The word for “Lord” is translated from the Hebrew word “Yehovah” whilst the word for “God” comes from the plural “Elohiym”.[5]

  1. The Trinity revealed in the New Testament

There are several passages in the New Testament that clearly teach the Trinity and the most significant and beautiful passage comes from Matthew 3.

Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; 17 and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”

One of the last instructions of Jesus to His disciples and to His church came with the Great Commission in Matt 28 and here the Trinity is confirmed by Jesus Himself.

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,

1 Corinthians 12:4-6  Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

The word “Spirit” comes from the Greek word “Pneuma”, the word “Lord” comes from the Greek word “Kurios” and the word “God” comes from the Greek word “Theos”.

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.[6]

  1. The Trinity
    • God is three persons

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three persons.

John 1:1-2 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God.

John 17:24 Father, I desire that they also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory that you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

1 John 2:1 My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.[7]

John 14:26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.[8]

John 16:7  Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

The word used for “Helper” is the Greek word “Paracletos” which means “person who helps, one who comes alongside”. These are the attributes of a person, not just a force or a breath. The Greek word for Holy Spirit comes in the form of a masculine pronoun, not in the abstract neuter form of a spirit.[9]

  • Each person is God

God the Father is clearly God as is apparent from many scriptures. God the Father is Creator according to Gen1:1. He is viewed as the sovereign Lord over all and the fact that Jesus prayed to the Father clearly means that the Father is God.[10]  As far as the Son is concerned, Jesus is also clearly depicted as God. Consider John 1: 1-4 where He is referred to as the Word, Who was God and was with God from the beginning. The following scriptures also confirm the deity of Christ:

John 20:28-31 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.[11]

Many scriptures confirm that the Holy Spirit is also God. In the Great Commission given by Jesus in Matthew 28 the disciples and church are given the instruction to make disciples of nations and baptise them in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. [12]

1 Corinthians 12:4-6   Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.

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: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.

When Ananias lied about the proceeds of the sale of a property belonging to him and his wife Sapphira, this is what Peter said in

Acts 5:3-4  But 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? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Psalm 139:7-8   Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there![13]

  • There is only one God

From the above it is clear that the Bible teaches that God is a Trinity,that God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are three persons yet each is also fully God. Yet the Bible also teaches that there is only one God. The foundational scripture in the Old Testament comes from Deuteronomy where the God of Israel is set apart from the polytheistic gods of the Canaanites. This confession is known as the “Shema”, which is the Hebrew word for “hear” and forms the basis of our belief in Monotheism:

Deuteronomy 6:4-5 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

In his prayer of dedication of the temple, Solomon ends his prayer as follows:

1 Kings 8:60  that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other.

Isaiah 45:5-6 I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, 6 that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other.[14]

Here are some scriptures confirming the oneness of God in the New Testament:

1 Timothy 2:5 For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,

Romans 3:30 since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.

1 Corinthians 8:6   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.[15]

  1. The distinctions in the Trinity

The persons of the Trinity have different primary functions in relating to the world, but they all agree on their unified purpose.

  • In creation and order

God the Father spoke the creative words to bring the universe into being (Gen 1).

Jesus the Son, the eternal Word, carried out these creative deeds:

John 1:3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.

Colossians 1:16 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.[16]

The Holy SpIrit is active in creation and order in a different way:

Genesis 1:2 The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

The Holy Spirit sustains and manifests God’s presence on the earth:

Psalm 139:7  Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?

  • In redemption

God the Father planned redemption and sent His Son into the world:

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

Ephesians 1:9-10 (ESV) making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.  

God the Son, Jesus Christ, obeyed God the Father and accomplished redemption for us and died for our sins:

John 6:38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.

Hebrews 10:5-7  Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; 6 in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. 7 Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”[17]

God the Holy Spirit was sent by God the Father (John 14:26) and by God the Son (John 16:7). Here are some of the functions of the Holy Spirit:

  • He gives us regeneration or new spiritual life (John 3:5-8);
  • He sanctifies us (Rom 8:13; Rom 15:16; 1 Pet 1:2);
  • He empowers us for service (Acts 1:8; 1 Cor 12:7-11).

The Holy Spirit brings to completion the work that has been planned by the Father and begun by the Son.

The Son and the Holy Spirit are equal in deity to God the Father, but subordinate in their roles. Another way of putting it is that the persons of the Trinity are equal in all their attributes, but differ in their relationship to the creation. They are equal in being but subordinate in role, but all toward a unified purpose.

The Trinity is far beyond our ability to comprehend fully, it is different from anything we have ever experienced. It sets Christianity apart, yet this is how God chose to reveal Himself, this is what the Bible teaches and we believe it by faith.

  1. The importance and application of the Trinity

One of the church fathers Athanasius said the following about the doctrine of the Trinity: “In the confession of the Trinity throbs the heart of the Christian religion: every error results from, or upon deeper reflection may be traced to, a wrong view of this doctrine”.[18]

God revealed Himself as a Trinity or Ti-unity. Any departure from the clear teaching of the Bible leads to a misrepresentation of God and compromises His message of redemption. Over the centuries up to the present day, many errors and erroneous teachings have lead to a misrepresentation of God by denying either that God is three persons, or that each person is fully God or that there is only one God.

  • Modalism taught that God is one person who appears to us in different modes or forms. It started in the 3rd Century AD and a modern day example is a branch of the Pentecostal Church called the United Pentecostal Church, which broke away from the Assemblies of God in 1916 over this point. (Modalism is also sometimes referred to as Sabelianism, after a teacher who lived in Rome early in the 3rd Century AD)
  • Arianism denied the full deity of the Son and the Holy Spirit. It originated in the 4th Century AD with the bishop of Alexandria called Arius. This error needed to be dealt with by the church at the council of Nicea in AD 325 and the Trinity was again confirmed in the Nicene Creed. A modern day example of Arianism would be the Jehovah’s Witnesses who deny the deity of Christ.
  • And so there have been many other deviations and errors like Subordinationism and Adoptionism, discussed in summary form by Grudem in Chapter 14 of Systematic Theology.[19]

Why is the Trinity so important? Over and above the fact that a departure from this doctrine leads to a misrepresentation of who God is, here are some of the vital matters that are at stake:

  • Worship of the one true God is at stake

There is only one God, He is one, but has revealed Himself in the Trinity. God Himself prohibits the worship of any other god or gods and calls them idols in Exodus 20:1-6. Only when we believe the Bible and Who God reveals Himself to be can we fully obey His command in:

Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

Since God the Father and God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are persons and are in a personal relationship with one another, our God is a personal God and we can have a personal relationship with Him. What a privilege!

  • The atonement is at stake

If Jesus was a created being, how could He ever have taken the full wrath of God upon Him? (Rom 5:9; 1 Thes 1:10)

Justification by grace through faith alone is threatened if we deny that Jesus Christ is Lord. ( Eph 2:8-9; John 14:6)

If Jesus is not God, how can we be praying to Him or be praying in His name? (John 14:13-14)

  • The unity of the universe is at stake:

Romans 1:20  For 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. So they are without excuse.[20]

-The covenant of Marriage/Unity in diversity–

Genesis 1:27  So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

Genesis 2:24  Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.

1 Corinthians 11:3   3 But I want you to understand that the head of every man iS Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

-Unity in the church—

Unity in diversity of spiritual gifts

1 Corinthians 12:12, 14 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ.14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many.[21]

Unity despite race or gender:

The unity of Jew and Gentile

Ephesians 2:  16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.[22]

Galatians 3:28   There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Revelation 7:9  After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands

Unity of the church and Christ

Ephesians 5:31-32 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold  fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.[23]

-Unity in the High Priestly prayer of Jesus—

John 17:20-21 “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, 21 that they may all be one  just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

John 13:35  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

I am so grateful to God for making Himself known to us in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour.

John 1:18   No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.

Colossians 2:9   For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,

God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, three persons all equally God, functioning together in one unified purpose, the redemption of the world. May we all grow into the unity that Jesus prayed for and may we know and see the love and salvation of God spread powerfully in our generation.

 

[1] Strongs H 430: “Plural of H433; gods in the ordinary sense; but specifically used (in the plural thus, especially with the article) of the supreme God;”

[2] See Grudem, Systematic Theology p. 227 footnote 2.

[3] Also see Gen 3:22.

[4] See also Psalm 110:1 quoted by Jesus in Matt 22:41-46

[5] See also Mal 3:1-3.

[6] See also Eph 4:4-6 and Jude 20-21.

[7] See also Heb 7:25.

[8] See also Rom 8:27.

[9] Also see Matt 28:19; I Cor 12:4-6; 2 Cor 13:14; Eph 4:30.

[10] John 14:16; John 17:9.

[11] See also Tit 2:13; Rom 5:8-10; Isa 9:6; Col 2:9.

[12] Matt 28:19.

[13] See also 1 Cor 2:10-11 and 1 Cor 3:16.

[14] See also Isa 45:21-22.

[15] See also James 2:19.

[16]Also see Ps 33:6, 9; 1 Cor 8:6; Heb 1:2

[17] See also Eph 1:3-4.

[18] Bavinck, The Doctrine of God, p. 281, quoted by Grudem on p 247, Systematic Theology.

[19] Grudem p 241- 247.

[20] In some translations the words “divine nature” are translated as “Godhead”.

[21] See the full significance from verses 14-26.

[22] See also Eph 3:8-10

[23] See also Eph 4:1-7.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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