A second lecture in a seven part series on the Godhead.
The Trinity of the Godhead
The Trinity is the characteristic truth of Christianity. Although the word “trinity” is not found in the Bible, the doctrine of it most certainly is. Christians since Pentecost have wrestled with this truth, and many false and evil doctrines have arisen to weaken, twist, or deny the Trinity. Nevertheless, believers for centuries have come back to what the scripture says about the personage of God, and concluded that there is: one God, three Persons, and distinct personalities in the Godhead. The three Persons are of the same essence, of the same mind, and the same will. They exist eternally in perfect light and love. I would like to begin this lecture by stepping through these foundational truths one by one, and substantiating them from the Word of God.
Monotheism has been defined as the belief in the existence of only one god. Judaism, Christianity and Islam, are the three major monotheistic religions of the world, and they all trace their roots back to Abraham. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have departed from monotheism in claiming that Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are separate gods. But the Bible teaches only One God, not three. Both New and Old Testaments are very clear on this:
“For though there be that are called gods, whether in heaven or in earth, (as there be gods many, and lords many,) But to us there is but one God, the Father, of whom are all things, and we in him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we by him.” (1 Cor. 8:5-6)
“Hear, O Israel Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.” (Deuteronomy 6:4)
Polytheism is the belief in more than one god. In the Roman Empire, during the first several centuries A.D., Christianity stood out against the many gods of the Pagan world. In fact, Christians were referred to as ‘Atheists’ in a derogatory way , because one god compared to thousands seemed to the Pagans like belief in no god at all!
Three Divine Persons
The New Testament identifies three Persons that are Divine. While, each of the three persons are identified as God, there is still only one God. To be clear, the Bible never says that the Son is ‘a god’, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses believe. While there are countless references to show this, the following verses clearly show that there are three Divine Persons.
- The Father: “Grace be to you and peace from God the Father…” (Gal. 1:3)
- The Son: “Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God…” (1 John 4:15)
- The Spirit: “And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God…” (Eph. 4:30)
The doctrine of the Trinity was not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but the Trinity is eternal, and thus existed in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is not silent on this matter. The verse we have already mentioned, Deut. 6:4 says “Hear, O Israel the LORD our God is one LORD.” In the original the names of God read as follows:
“Hear, O Israel Jehovah [singular] our Elohim [plural] is one Jehovah [singular].”
Here we have an affirmation of the Oneness of the Godhead, but at the same time carefulness to preserve the truth of the Trinity.
The implications of the Trinity are enormous. There is something profound about the truth of three Divine Persons existing from eternity in perfect harmony. We get this in John 1:2; speaking of the Word, “He was in the beginning with God”. The three Persons were always together. The Word had eternal intra-communion with the Trinity. One of the great distinguishing features of Christianity is that, while maintaining the oneness of God, it embraces the truth of eternal love. There is an intra-communion between the persons of the Godhead, characterized by love (John 3:35; 14:31; 2 Cor. 13:14; Prov. 8:30). In monadic religions (belief in one god and one person) like Islam, they believe Allah has only ever been one person. One person cannot express love to his or herself! Love is only expressed in relationship to other persons. Therefore, in monadic religions, love is not an expressed reality until the moment of creation, because there are no persons to love. But blessed be God, the scriptures declare that God is love, and has been loving from a past eternity!
In scripture, the three divine Persons are carefully distinguished from one another.
- The Father is not the same as the Son; “the Father has sent the Son as Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
- The Son is not the same as the Holy Spirit; “the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified” (John 7:37).
- The Holy Spirit is not the same as the Father; “the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name” (John 14:26).
The practice of putting numbers on the persons of the Godhead is not scriptural; e.g. the “third Person of the Godhead” is a designation that demotes the Holy Spirit to a lesser place than He has as God. Yet the three persons have distinguishing features that mark them as different.
The Lord Jesus could say “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), which is an expression of their oneness in divine essence; they are “one thing” as each Person is God. He does not say “I and my Father are one Person”. No, the Persons of the Trinity are distinct.
There have been many attempts to find a physical illustration for the Trinity, but all fall short of it. Why? because God is a transcendent Being, and cannot be comprehended by the human mind. An example of a bad illustration is that of a pie cut into three equal pieces. It demonstrates the oneness of God, and the equality of three Persons. However, it falls short of the Deity of the three Persons, because each slice of the pie is less than the whole. Another bad example is the egg. You have the shell, the white, and the yoke. Together they form one egg, and the egg would be incomplete without any of the three. It demonstrates the oneness of God, and the distinction of personalities. However, this too falls short of the the Deity of the three Persons.
One of the better illustrations is that of physical dimensions . When you have one dimension, you can make straight lines. With two dimensions you can combine those lines and create figures. With three dimensions you can combine those figures and have physical bodies. Take a cuboid for example. Looking at it from the front, top, or side, you see the two dimensional figures. You are seeing the whole body, but only in one aspect. In a similar way, the three Persons of the Godhead are distinct from one another, and have their own personalities. But together they are one Divine Being. It is a higher order of being than we have as mere humans. Again, it falls short from the real Trinity, but it hints at the truth.
My favorite illustration is sunlight. It not only demonstrates the truth of three-in-one, but it also corresponds to the various functions of the three Persons. The illustration is similar to that of the three dimensions in that it views sunlight in three aspects:
- The Source (Father) you can look up into the sky on a sunny day, and say “there is the sun”, referring to the source of sunlight.
- The Display or Agent (Son) you can see the brightly lit road, and say “there is the sun”, referring to the display of sunlight on the road.
- The Power (Holy Spirit) you can feel the warmth of the sunlight on your face and arms, and say, “there is the sun”, referring to the power of the sunlight affecting your skin.
The source, the display, and the power are each “the sun”, but they are distinct from one another. You cannot say the sunlight on the road is the fiery ball of gas in the sky, nor can you say the warmth on your skin is the sunlight on the road. The same is true of the Trinity; three distinct Persons, only One God.
God Himself, the Source, the Fountain,
Christ the Way the waters flow,
By the Spirit down from heaven,
To the thirsty heart below.
God the Father
The Father is commonly found in scripture as the giver or source of goodness, wisdom, justice, authority, etc. We are told in James 1:17 that “Every good gift and every perfect gift comes down from above, from the Father of lights, etc.” This thought of a supreme Giver is brought out abundantly in John’s Gospel.
- The Father has “given all things” into the hands of the Son (John 3:35)
- The Father “gave His only begotten Son” for our redemption (John 3:16).
- The Father “gives” souls to the Son, then draws them to the Son in grace (John 6:37, 44).
- The Father will give to believers “whatsoever” they ask in the Son’s Name (John 16:23).
The Father is also the special object of worship (John 4:23), while the Son is the subject of worship (Col. 1:14-20), and the Spirit is the means of worship (Phil. 3:3).
While the Father was not known by the name of “Father” in the Old Testament, He was nonetheless the Father from a past eternity, just as the Son was always the Son. These two truths are closely connected: the Eternal Sonship of Christ, and the Eternal Fatherhood of God. There are many proofs of this, but a simple one is “the Father has sent the Son as Saviour of the world” (1 John 4:14). The Son had to have been the Son and the Father had to have been the Father before the incarnation, or this verse could not be truth. We will discuss this more fully in subsequent lectures.
God the Son
The Son of God is found in scripture as the display or expression of God toward man. We are told in John 1:18 that “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The only way for man to really know God, is through the Person of the Son! This is a central message of the New Testament. He is the Agent by which God acts. He is the way God comes to man. God created all things “by Him” (Col. 1:16), etc.
- The Son is the Eternal “Word“, or expression of God (John 1:1)
- The Son is the “image” or representation of the invisible God (Col. 1:15)
- The Son is the “exact impress” (i.e. not just likeness) of God’s Person (Heb. 1:3)
- The Son is the “bodily dwelling” of the Godhead (Col. 2:9)
The incarnation is the unfathomable mystery of what John writes: “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us” (John 1:14). In the Old Testament the Son appeared at various times to saints; e.g. Gen. 18:1, Ex. 3:2; Josh. 5:13; Isa. 6:1… “In the year of the death of king Uzziah, I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple, etc.” In all of these cases it was God the Son appearing in some pre-incarnate form. And yet, God’s heart could not be fully declared until the the Son became a man, and so “it behooved him in all things to be made like to his brethren” (Heb. 2:17). The incarnation will never be reversed… the Son of God will remain a man for all eternity!
God the Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit is found in scripture as the energy or power for divine activity. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is carefully developed in John’s Gospel.
- The Spirit is the power to quicken souls, using the Word of God (John 3:5).
- The Spirit is the power in us to spring up in worship (John 4:14; Phil. 3:3).
- The Spirit is the power that unites the Body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:13).
- The Spirit is the power for true Christian ministry (Luke 4:14, 1 Cor. 12).
- The Spirit is the power in us flowing out with blessing to others (John 7:38-39).
- The Spirit is the power by which we enjoy eternal life (John 20:22; Rom. 8:2).
- The Spirit is the power by which we have deliverance from sin (Rom. 8:2; Gal. 5:16).
The sending of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost was promised by the Lord Jesus, and had to wait until Jesus was glorified at the Father’s right hand (John 7:39). The Holy Spirit is here in two capacities:
“And I will beg the Father, and he will give you another Comforter, that he may be with you for ever, the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it does not see him nor know him; but ye know him, for he abides with you, and shall be in you.” (John 14:16-17).
The Spirit is “with us” in the aspect that believers collectively are the House of God, “a habitation of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:22). The Spirit is “in us” individually by inhabiting our physical bodies; “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you” (1 Cor. 6:19). The indwelling of the Spirit is called the “Anointing”, “Sealing”, and “Earnest” of the Spirit (2 Cor. 1:21-22). The Lord Jesus also is sealed with the Spirit (Matt. 3:16, John 6:27). The Spirit indwelling all believers at the present time forms a link uniting the Body of Christ to the Head (1 Cor. 12:13).
The Trinity as seen in Scripture
All cults and false religions do not believe in the Trinity, because it is the characteristic truth of Christianity. Muslims , Jews, Hindus, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. all deny it. The truth of the Trinity is clearly revealed in the New Testament, for example Matt. 3:16-17 and Matt. 28:19.
“And Jesus, having been baptized, went up straightway from the water, and lo, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove, and coming upon him: and behold, a voice out of the heavens saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I have found my delight.”
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them to the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
Notice, it is “the Name” (singular) that is associated with three persons; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Trinity is witnessed so abundantly in the New Testament; see 2 Cor. 13:14; Eph. 2:18; 4:4-6; Rev. 1:4-5; John 14:26, etc. However, the New Testament does not seek to prove the Trinity to man’s mind, rather it is stated as the way that God has revealed Himself. The Trinity is seen in everything God does:
- Creation: Father (Acts 17:24; Eph. 4:6); Son (John 1; Col. 1; Heb. 1); and Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2).
- Note: the actual work of Creation is attributed to the Son, accomplishing the Father’s will.
- Incarnation: Father (Psalm 2:7); Son (Luke 1:35); and Holy Spirit (Matt. 1:20).
- Atonement: Father (2 Cor. 5:21); Son (1 Pet. 2:24); and Holy Spirit (Heb. 9:14).
- Resurrection: Father (Gal. 1:1); Son (John 10:18); and Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 3:18).
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
The Trinity is not fully revealed in the Old Testament, but you can see it there. For instance, in the first verse of the Bible;
“In the beginning Elohim [plural] created [singular] the heavens and the earth [dual].” (Gen. 1:1)
In Hebrew there are not merely two grammatical numbers like in English (singular and plural); but three (dual). If something is in the plural, it is not two-or-more, but three-or-more! For example: one cherub, two cherubs, or several cherubim! The same is true with the name “Elohim“. It is interesting that New Testament (Koine) Greek only has two grammatical numbers, but the Trinity is fully revealed! But when Elohim acts, it is “created” (singular)… One God!
“And God [plural] said, Let us [plural] make man in our [plural] image, after our [plural] likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, etc… And God [plural] created Man in his [singular] image, in the image of God [plural] created he [singular] him; male and female created he [singular] them.” (Gen. 1:26-27)
We could multiply instances (Gen. 11:7-8, Isa. 6:8), but these two are sufficient to show that the Trinity is found in the Old Testament. The truth of it is not fully declared, although some instances get us close to a declaration of it:
“Come near unto me, hear ye this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I [the Son]; and now the Lord Jehovah [the Father] hath sent me, and his Spirit [the Spirit].” (Isa. 48:16)
Here we get the three Persons distinguished, but nothing known about their relationship to one another. The relationships in the Godhead could not be fully known until the Son came in flesh to declare God to man. Sadly, Jews reject the Trinity, though it can be proven from their own scriptures.
The Trinity is part of the foundation on which our faith rests. The Trinity is involved in everything God does; whether it be the incarnation, the atonement, or the resurrection. That foundation is still being assaulted by Satan today. May we take courage from the words of our Lord Jesus; “on this rock I will build my Church… and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” We can thank God for preserving the truth of it to us in His Word. May these scriptures encourage us to become more grounded in that foundation!
Blest our portion, thus to be
Glorying in the Trinity;
For the Gospel from above,
For the word that God is love.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.” (2 Cor. 13:14)
- The Trinity. Address by Chuck Hendricks. Shadow Hills, CA. 1997
- The Trinity. Address by Adrian Roach. Dorothy, NJ. 1978
- During the Roman persecution of Christians, when attempting to draw out a recantation from a Christian, they would ask them to say “Away with the Atheists” or in other words, “away with the Christians.” See the Martyrdom of Polycarp as an example.
- Surah 4:171. O People of the Book! Commit no excesses in your religion: Nor say of Allah aught but the truth. Christ Jesus the son of Mary was (no more than) a messenger of Allah, and His Word, which He bestowed on Mary, and a spirit proceeding from Him: so believe in Allah and His messengers. Say not “Trinity”: desist: it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah: Glory be to Him: (far exalted is He) above having a son. To Him belong all things in the heavens and on earth.
- Lewis, C.S. Mere Christianity. Chapter 24: The Three-Personal God. New York : MacMillan Pub. Co., 1952.