5. The Trinity
We have seen that the Scriptures teach that the Father is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and the Son is God. But we have also seen that the Scriptures teach that there is only one God. How do we reconcile these Scriptures?
The Church has consistently taught that these Scriptures are reconciled by the doctrine of the Trinity. The word “trinity” is a combination of the words “tri” and “unity.” Hence it means three in one. It is true that the word “trinity” does not appear anywhere in the Scriptures. The word is simply our name for the doctrine which is clearly taught by the Scriptures.
The doctrine of the Trinity states that there is only one God in three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These three persons are equal in nature, power, and eternity. Each person is fully God, yet they are united in such a way that there is only one God.
The doctrine is not explicitly stated in the Old Testament, though there are hints of it.
Gen. 1:26-27, Gen. 11:5-9, and Is. 6:8 all have something in common: the Lord refers to “us” when he is clearly referring to himself.
Some verses mention all three persons:
Is. 48:16 (The Lord God [the Father] and His Spirit have sent Me [the Son])
Ps. 33:6 (The Word is the Son, the Hebrew word for “breath” is also the Hebrew word for the Spirit)
Exod. 33:18-20 – God tells Moses that no man can see God and live. John 1:18 tells us that no man has seen God, meaning the Father, at any time.
Yet God appeared to several people in the Old Testament (for example, Gen. 17:1 and Gen. 32:24-30). These people saw God, but did not die. The best explanation is that they did not see the Father but did see the Son.
The doctrine is explicit in the New Testament. The New Testament also affirms that there is only one God, but it also talks about the three persons and often mentions all three in the same passage:
1 Cor. 6:1
1 Cor. 12:4-6
1 Pet. 1:1-2
1 John 5:7 states the doctrine in no uncertain terms. However, you should be aware that it appears in only a few manuscripts and those are quite young.
The doctrine of the Trinity is admittedly difficult to understand. Nowadays, most people in our culture do not believe in polytheism so they are not likely to split the persons into three gods. However, many people emphasize their unity so much that they often blur the persons. The Scriptures clearly teach that each person is distinct from the other. The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father.
Each person also has a distinct role:
- God the Father’s role is to generate things. Things originate with him and flow from him. God the Father is equal with the Son and the Holy Spirit, but things start with him. The Father sent both the Son (John 3:16-17) and Holy Spirit (John 14:26) into the world.
- God the Son’s role is to pay for our sins with his blood, which he did on the cross (Romans 5:9). The Son also acts as a lawyer for us before God, acting as a “mediator” between us and God (1 Timothy 2:5), and speaking “to the Father in our defense” (1 John 2:1).
- God the Holy Spirit has many roles. The Spirit helps us pray (Romans 8:26-27). He gives us new life (John 3:3-6). He is our Comforter, and he helps us understand God’s word (John 14:26). He lifts up Christ (John 15:26). He convicts us of sin (John 16:7-11). He helps us to live holy lives (Romans 15:16). He gives us love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). He helps us share our faith (Acts 1:8). And he lives inside us (Romans 8:11). (http://www.christianitytoday.com/iyf/advice/faithdoubt/what-is-trinity.html)
Each person in the Godhead is distinct from each other and yet they are one. In John 17, Jesus prayed that we would be one with each other and him just as he is one with the Father. Perhaps we do not understand how three persons can still be one God because we still do not understand how to be one with each other.