The Trinity

The Bible teaches that, while God exists in three Persons, called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. These are not three persons in the ordinary sense of the word; they are not three individuals, but rather three modes or forms in which the Divine Being exists.

At the same time they are of such a nature that they can enter into personal relations. The Father can speak to the Son and vice versa, and both can send forth the Spirit. The real mystery of the Trinity consists in this that each one of the Persons possesses the whole of the divine essence, and that this has no existence outside of and apart from the Persons.

The three are not subordinate in being the one to the other, though it may be said that in order of existence the Father is first, the Son second, and the Holy Spirit third, an order which is also reflected in their work.

Scripture Proof for the Trinity

The Old Testament contains some indications of more than one Person in God. God speaks of Himself in the plural:

“And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the heavens, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth. (Genesis 1:26)”

“Come, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another”s speech. (Genesis 11:7)”

The Angel of Jehovah is represented as a divine Person:

“And the angel of Jehovah found her by a fountain of water in the wilderness, by the fountain in the way to Shur. And he said, Hagar, Sarai”s handmaid, whence camest thou? and whither goest thou? And she said, I am fleeing from the face of my mistress Sarai. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, Return to thy mistress, and submit thyself under her hands. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, I will greatly multiply thy seed, that it shall not be numbered for multitude. And the angel of Jehovah said unto her, Behold, thou art with child, and shalt bear a son; and thou shalt call his name Ishmael, because Jehovah hath heard thy affliction. And he shall be [as] a wild ass among men; his hand [shall be] against every man, and every man”s hand against him; and he shall dwell over against all his brethren. And she called the name of Jehovah that spake unto her, Thou art a God that seeth: for she said, Have I even here looked after him that seeth me? (Genesis 16:7-13)”

The Spirit is spoken of as a distinct Person:

“Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit. (Isaiah 48:16)”

“But they rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, [and] himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:10)”

Moreover, there are some passages in which the Messiah is speaking and mentions two other Persons:

“Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; from the beginning I have not spoken in secret; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord Jehovah hath sent me, and his Spirit. (Isaiah 48:16)”

“The Spirit of the Lord Jehovah is upon me; because Jehovah hath anointed me to preach good tidings unto the meek; he hath sent me to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening [of the prison] to them that are bound; (Isaiah 61:1)”

“In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and grieved his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, [and] himself fought against them. (Isaiah 63:9-10)”

Due to the progress of revelation, the New Testament contains clearer proofs. The strongest proof is found in the facts of redemption. The Father sends the Son into the world, and the Son sends the Holy Spirit.

Moreover, there are several passages in which the three Persons are expressly mentioned, such as the great commission:

“Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit: (Matthew 28:19)”

And the apostolic blessing:

“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)”

“Now it came to pass, when all the people were baptized, that, Jesus also having been baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, and the Holy Spirit descended in a bodily form, as a dove, upon him, and a voice came out of heaven, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. (Luke 3:21-22)

“And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. (Luke 1:35)”

“Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, and the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all. (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)”

“…according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace to you and peace be multiplied. (1 Peter 1:2)”

– Louis Berkhof

The Holy Spirit In The Life Of Christ

The Holy Spirit in the Birth and Childhood of Christ

In Luke 1:35 the angel Gabriel announces to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God.”

Then in Matthew 1:20 an angel says to Joseph “Do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.”

In these verses we learn that the Holy Spirit “overshadowed” or “conceived” Jesus. This is a key point when trying to understand how Jesus can be human yet also be without sin.

Mankind was made in the image of God which means we’re spiritual beings. The problem is that the image of God in us has been tarnished by sin. So when humans reproduce they pass on that tarnished spiritual image. That’s why David says in Psalm 51:5 that “in sin my mother conceived me.”

But Jesus wasn’t conceived through humans, He was conceived through the Holy Spirit. He’s fully human, but because He didn’t inherent our sin nature, instead of being predisposed to sin, Hebrews 7:26 tells us that he was “separate from sinners”. The result is what we see in Hebrews 4:15 Jesus was “tempted as we are, yet was without sin.”

Moving to Jesus’ childhood Luke 2:52 tells us that “Jesus increased in wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.” Luke 2:40 says the same thing saying the “Child grew and became strong in spirit, filled with wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.” You hear people ask all the time what did Jesus do during His childhood and here we have our answer. He increased in “wisdom and stature and in favor with God and men.”

Now it’s important to note here that this verse and others like it are referring to Jesus’ human nature. Jesus is fully God and fully Man. As God He’s unlimited in His power and knowledge. But as Man He willingly laid aside His position and Philippians 2:7 tells us “emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondservant.”

Jesus, when He took on a human nature, willingly limited Himself and needed to grow physically, mentally and spiritually, but did so without ever sinning.

The Holy Spirit aided Him every step of the way. In Isaiah 50:4 we find Jesus saying that “The Lord GOD has given Me the tongue of the learned, that I should know how to speak a word in season to him who is weary. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to hear as the learned.”

From 1 Corinthians 2 we know that the Spirit helps us to understand spiritual truths. In the case of Jesus it seems He received unique personal training.

So in His birth and childhood the Holy Spirit aided Jesus by separating Him from sinners and by teaching Him what He is to say.

That leads us to…

The Holy Spirit in the Ministry of Christ

When Jesus was baptized in Luke 3:22 we read that “the Holy Spirit descended in bodily form like a dove upon Him, and a voice came from heaven which said, ‘You are My beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.’”

In our lives the Holy Spirit always meets with resistance because of our sin so our gifts and works are limited. But because Jesus knew no sin, when the Spirit descended upon Him, He was able to work fully and completely through Him.

Isaiah 11:2 gives us some insight here. We’re told that “The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, counsel and might, knowledge and of the fear of the LORD” came upon Him and we see these things throughout His ministry.

Jesus summarizes how He uses these gifts in Luke 4:18-19: “The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.”

So in His ministry The Holy Spirit led Jesus and empowered Him to preach and perform miracles and free us from sin.

This leads us to…

The Holy Spirit in the Death and Resurrection of Christ

The Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter” in John 14:26. Ephesians 3:16 tells us the Holy Spirit strengthens us. If He comforts us how much more must He have comforted Jesus throughout His ministry and especially as His crucifixion drew near? How much more must He have strengthened Jesus as He agonized in the garden of Gethsemane?

Not only did the Spirit sustain Jesus Hebrews 9:14 tells us Jesus offered Himself through the Spirit. Whereas earthly alters were used by the priests to make sacrifices the Holy Spirit, in some mysterious way, acted as a spiritual alter to accept Christ’s sacrifice once and for all. Then finally in Romans 8:11 we see that the Spirit raised Christ from the dead.

So in His death and resurrection the Holy Spirit comforted and strengthened Jesus, acted as the alter through which Christ offered Himself and raised Him from the dead.

And we’re told this same Holy Spirit who reveals Christ, who applies salvation, who gives gifts, who empowers us, who teaches us, who comforts us, who strengthens us, this same Spirit is in us and loves us and is the guarantee of our salvation.

The Trinity In The Old Testament

“Trinity” is a term used to describe the idea of one God existing in three distinct Persons, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity is not a 4th Century invention, its roots are found in the Old Testament.

Plural Words Are Used To Describe God Throughout The Old Testament

The Bible begins with these words:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. (Gen. 1:1)The word ‘God’ is the Hebrew word ‘elohiym’. Elohiym is the plural form of the word God. It implies unity in plurality.

While modern scholars argue back and forth about this word usage the ancient rabbis understood that the plural usage was a legitimate point as this passage from Genesis Rabbah shows:

Rabbi Samuel ben Nahman said in Rabbi Jonathan’s name: “When Moses was engaged in writing the Torah, he had to write the work of each day. When he came to the verse, AND GOD SAID; LET US MAKE MAN, etc., he said: ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Why dost Thou furnish an excuse to heretics?’ [for maintaining a plurality of deity]. ‘Write,’ replied He; ‘whoever wishes to err may err.'”

And while we don’t endorse the theology found in the Zohar, their commentary on the Shema, the declaration that the Lord is one from Deuteronomy 6:4, is interesting:

“Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one. How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of faith; in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eye alone.…So it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai—three modes which yet form one unity

Some Subtle Examples Of The Trinity

In the Old Testament we find that God has organized many biblical ideas in trinitarian ways.

The Old Testament itself is a “trinity” being made up of the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. The same is true for the Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Israel is also a trinity, being made up of priests, Levites, and Israelites. The Jews pray three times a day in the morning, afternoon, and evenings.

In Numbers 6:24-26 the Lord gives a three-fold blessing and in Isaiah 6:3 the angels give God three-fold praise crying, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty; the whole earth is full of his glory.”

Does all this prove the Trinity? No, but it does open the door to the possibility, and should encourage us to continue our study. Ultimately the issue has to be decided by Scripture, which is where we’ll now turn our attention.

God Mentioned As Two Distinct Personalities

For example:

Psalm 110:1:

The LORD said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.”

God anoints God in Psalm 45:7:

You love righteousness and hate wickedness; Therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions.

God is speaking and says He’ll save Israel by the Lord, their God in Hosea 1:7:

“Yet I [God] will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their God, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen.”

The Lord rains fire from the Lord in Genesis 19:24:

“Then he LORD rained brimstone and fire on Sodom and Gomorrah from the LORD out of the heavens.”

God is sent by God in Zechariah 2:8-9:

“For thus says the LORD of hosts: “He sent Me after glory, to the nations which plunder you; for he who touches you touches the apple of His eye. For surely I will shake My hand against them, and they shall become spoil for their servants. Then you will know that the LORD of hosts has sent Me.”

God sends His messenger, the Lord, who will come to His temple in Malachi 3:1:

“Behold, I send My messenger, and he will prepare the way before Me. And the Lord, whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple, Even the Messenger of the covenant, In whom you delight. Behold, He is coming,” Says the LORD of hosts.”

We find God and His Son in Proverb 30:4:

Who has ascended into heaven, or descended? Who has gathered the wind in His fists? Who has bound the waters in a garment? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is His name, and what is His Son’s name, if you know?

God gives the nations to His Son in Psalm 2:7-8:

The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession.

From God will come a Ruler who is eternal, of old, from everlasting in Micah 5:2:

But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me the One to be Ruler in Israel, whose goings forth are from of old, from everlasting.

God Is Mentioned As Three Distinct Personalities

There are a couple of wonderful examples of the Trinity in Isaiah:

In this passage the speaker is God who has been sent by the Lord God and the Holy Spirit. This passage is very clearly shows the Trinity. Isaiah 48:12,16-17:

Listen to Me, O Jacob, and Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, and My right hand has stretched out the heavens. When I call to them, They stand up together.

Come near to Me, hear this: I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; From the time that it was, I was there. And now the Lord GOD and His Spirit Have sent Me.

Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, The Holy One of Israel: “I am the LORD your God, Who teaches you to profit, Who leads you by the way you should go.”

The Lord became the Savior but it wasn’t the Father, but the Angel of His Presence (A term referring to the physical manifestation of God), and we also have the Holy Spirit who was grieved when the people rebelled. Isaiah 63:7-10:

I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD And the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD has bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which He has bestowed on them according to His mercies, according to the multitude of His lovingkindnesses.

For He said, “Surely they are My people, Children who will not lie.” So He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted,

And the Angel of His Presence saved them; In His love and in His pity He redeemed them; And He bore them and carried them All the days of old.

But they rebelled and grieved His Holy Spirit; So He turned Himself against them as an enemy, And He fought against them.

The Memra, The Word Of The Lord

It’s interesting to see the way the ancient rabbis handled verses like the ones above. In the Targums, which are Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, the Aramaic word ‘Memra’, which means the ‘Word’ or ‘The Word of the Lord’, is used when physical manifestations of God appear or when God is mentioned more than once in the same verse. Here are a few examples from the Targums:

The Memra acts as a mediator between the Father and Creation:

And I will establish my covenant between My Word [Memra} and between you (Targum Onkelos Gen. 17:7)

And YHWH said to Noah, “This is the token of the covenant which I have established between My Word [Memra] and between all flesh that is upon the earth. (Targum Onkelos Gen. 9:17)

The Memra is God and is worshiped as such:

And Jacob vowed a vow, saying, “If the Word [Memra] of YHWH will be my support, and will keep me in the way that I go, and will give me bread to eat, and raiment to put on, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace; then shall the Word [Memra] of Lord be my God. (Targum Onkelos on Gen. 28:20-21)

And Abraham worshipped and prayed in the name of the Word [Memra] of YHWH, and said, “You are Lord who does see, but You cannot be seen.” (Jerusalem Targum Gen. 22:14)

The Memra is God, yet is a separate personality from the Father and Holy Spirit:

And the Word [Memra] of the Lord caused to descend upon the peoples of Sodom and Gommorah, brimstone and fire from the Lord in heaven. (Targum Jonathan on Gen. 19:24)

And Israel saw the great strong hand of God, what He did to the Egyptians. They feared God and believed in His Word [Memra] and in His servant Moses. (Onkeles Targum on Exodus 14:31)

The Memra is Jesus:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

The Greek word for Memra is Logos, which in English translates to “The Word”. So what John 1 is saying that Jesus is the Memra, the Word. He is fully God yet distinct from the Father and is the mediator between the Father and Creation. “No one comes to the Father except by Me.”

The concept of the Trinity has biblical support in the Old Testament. We see one God yet we also see clearly separate personalities. We see plurality in unity.

Some people want a God who is simpler than His creation. But that isn’t the God of the Bible. The Trinity is a concept we can’t truly understand, but can only get a faint idea of. C.S. Lewis summed it up well in Mere Christianity when he said:

“On the human level one person is one being, and any two persons are two separate beings – just as, in two dimensions (say on a flat sheet of paper) one square is one figure, and any two squares are two separate figures.

On the Divine level you still find personalities; but up there you find them combined in new ways which we who do not live on that level, cannot imagine. In God’s dimension, so to speak, you find a being who is three Persons while remaining one Being, just as a cube is six squares while remaining one cube.

Of course, we cannot fully conceive a Being like that: just as, if we were so made that we perceived only two dimensions in space we could never properly imagine a cube. But we can get a sort of faint notion of it. And when we do, we are then, for the first time in our lives, getting some positive idea, however faint of something super-personal – something more than a person.”

Mistakes Concerning The Trinity

Arianism

Arianism was named for its founder, Arius, who was a 4th century priest in Alexandria, Egypt. Arias taught that Jesus was a created being, who is neither equal nor co-eternal to the Father. In denying the deity of Christ, yet advocating that he is to be worshipped, Arians are in truth promoting idol worship. This belief has found its way into many current Christian Identity and white supremacist groups like Shepherd’s Chapel, and countless “Hebrew Roots” groups.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: Jesus is not a created being, He is the Creator, “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made,” (John 1:3) who is equal with the Father, “I and My Father are one.” (John 10:30)

Adoptionism (also known as Dynamic Monarchianism)

Adoptionism is a belief similar to Arianism, but arose a century later. Its teaching is that Jesus was a created being who did not pre-exist time, and after passing a test and completing his baptism, he was awarded supernatural powers by God and “adopted” as the Son. This belief is basis for the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: God the Son Jesus has always existed, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God,” (John 1:1-2) and always will exist, “I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.” (Revelation 1:8)

Modalism (also known as Modalistic Monarchianism or Sabellianism)

Modalism is the teaching that God can only exist in a single role at a given time. It maintains that God was in the role of the Father in the Old Testament days, the Son in the Gospels, and upon the ascension, took on the role of the Holy Spirit, which is not God, but the spirit of God. Modalists claim that those who believe in the trinity believe in 3 separate Gods, but this is an inaccurate statement and more accurately describes another error known as Tritheism (see below). Modalism is a mainstay of the UPC.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are 3 co-eternal, co-existing manifestations of the same being. “When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)

Tritheism

Tritheism is the belief that the Godhead is in reality 3 separate beings, with 3 separate wills, in violation of scripture that says God is one. While maintaining the deity of Christ, schisms of this belief (such as those taught by Word of Faith proponents) diminishes him to born again status and maintains that he was the first born again man, a sinner in need of a savior. Mormons are also tritheistic with the extra wrinkle of polytheism thrown in (see below).

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: Jesus was sinless, “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weakness, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Polytheism

Polytheism is the belief in many Gods, in violation of Deuteronomy 6:4 and Isaiah 43:10, 44:6. This is a schism of Tritheism and is a belief maintained by the Mormon church. They maintain that God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are the 3 gods of this world, and that the best Mormons will become Gods to populate their own world in the afterlife, where with the assistance of a goddess mother, they can give birth to their own Jesus and their Spirit will reign.

WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES: There is only one God, “Before Me there was no God formed, nor shall there be after Me.” (Isaiah 43:10) and in eternity we will worship only Him “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)