The aim of this survey of the doctrine of the Trinity is not meant to answer every question you have. As a matter of fact, I’d be surprised if it doesn’t raise as many questions as answers. Questions are good. They make us search for answers. An in-depth treatment of the Trinity is beyond the scope and purpose of this article. I certainly do not intend to break any new ground. I will include links to resources at the end that will help you along.
The Trinity is a uniquely Christian doctrine that describes the nature of God. The doctrine (teaching) is formulated as follows:
There is only one God.
God eternally exists in three distinct and equal persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Spirit, etc.
As an off-shoot of Judaism, Christianity affirms the belief that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 37:20; Romans 3:30). However, as the revelation of God became fuller during the New Testament period, it became obvious that God made himself known in the Person of Jesus Christ, as well as the Holy Spirit — both of whom were considered divine, yet distinct from one another.
John Piper wrote this helpful summary:
“The Bible speaks of the Father as God (Phil. 1:2), Jesus as God (Titus 2:13), and the Holy Spirit as God (Acts 5:3-4). Are these just three different ways of looking at God, or simply ways of referring to three different roles that God plays? The answer must be no, because the Bible also indicates that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons. For example, since the Father sent the Son into the world (John 3:16), He cannot be the same person as the Son. Likewise, after the Son returned to the Father (John 16:10), the Father and the Son sent the Holy Spirit into the world (John 14:26; Acts 2:33). Therefore, the Holy Spirit must be distinct from the Father and the Son.”
Evidence of Trinitarian thinking was seen in the statements of Jesus (John 1:1; 10:30; 14:9), as well as Paul (Romans 8; 2 Corinthians 13:14), Luke (Acts 28 revealing that Isaiah 6 speaks of Jesus Christ), Peter (1 Peter 1:2), and Jude (Jude 25). The Trinitarian “formula” is also seen in the Great Commission in which Jesus exhorts the church to baptize converts “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Similarly, the Trinity is expressed at the baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17), in which we see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit present.
There is also ample evidence that the early Church Fathers believed and taught trinitarianism. These men who lived and wrote in the first few hundred years after Jesus ascended also affirmed a triune view of God. In addition, some of the earliest written Christian confessions contain Trinitarian language, such as the Apostles’ Creed (390 A.D., and as early as 180 A.D.), and the Nicene Creed (325/381 A.D.).
While it is true that the word trinity does not appear in Scripture, this does nothing to lessen the fact that the concept is found throughout its pages, and was understood and expressed by the early church, and is still believed and taught by modern orthodox churches.
Here are a few closing thoughts about the Trinity:
1. Just because a particular word isn’t found in the Bible does nothing to negate its concept being in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity would certainly fall into this category.
2. The Trinity expresses the unity of the Godhood, it does not teach that God is three different gods.
3. The Trinity is significant in our prayer and devotional life as we worship the Father by exalting the Son through the power of the Spirit.
4. God did not “become” Jesus and Jesus did not “become” the Holy Spirit. All three are separate, distinct individuals who happen to be God, and comprise the Godhead.
5. Some erroneous and antichristian Trinitarian teachings to guard against are:
– That Jesus (and the Holy Spirit) are created beings.
– That each Person of the Godhead is only 1/3 of the Godhead, and together they make up the Godhead, sort of like a holy Voltron.
– That God exists in different forms or modes throughout history, such as God the Father became God the Son, etc.
6. It’s okay if you can’t fully wrap your mind around the Trinity. It doesn’t make it wrong. For instance, I can’t wrap my mind around God’s sovereignty, but I know the Bible teaches it and I affirm it both by faith and by reason.
7. Finally, I would include the text of the hymn “Holy, holy, holy” for us to consider as we worship God as a triune God:
Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!
2. Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.
3. Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.
4. 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.
What is the doctrine of the Trinity? by John Piper
Why is the doctrine of the Trinity important? by Jeff Hughes (Apologetics Index)
The Biblical Doctrine of the Trinity from the ESV Study Bible
God Is Three Persons: the Triunity of God from the ESV Study Bible
The Mystery of the Trinity from the ESV Study Bible