The Trinity: Revealed Doctrine

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In This Lesson
Introduction | Discussion | The LORD Is One | The Triune Composition of Creation
A Closer Look at the Three Persons of the Trinity | Not Human, But Personable


It is impossible to examine who God is without discussing the Trinity. The doctrine of the Trinity states that in the one God is the Person of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are not the same Person as each other, nor do they function exactly the same, but the three Persons comprise one God.

This is similar in analogy to the nature of time. Time is past, present, and future. The past is not the same as the present, which is not the same as the future. But, there are not three times. There is only one thing called "time".1 Another analogy that is similar to the Trinity is the nature of water [chemical composition H2O]. H2O can be liquid [water], or ice, or steam. The water is not the same as the ice, which is not the same as the steam. Although their forms may differ, each one's chemical composition is still H2O. Thus, there is one H2O in three forms.

Before we begin this study, understand this: There is no way to perfectly and completely understand the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. It is impossible for any human being to fully understand, let alone explain. God says: "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:9). Certainly, none of us would dare argue with that!

God is infinitely greater than we are; therefore, we should not expect to be able to fully understand Him with our intellect. There are mysteries which will be gloriously revealed only when we stand before His throne. Until that Day, we study and ask for revelatory knowledge from the Holy Spirit; but ultimately, we assent that some concepts must be taken on faith.

Although we can understand some facts about the relationship between the three, ultimately, the concept of three distinct Persons forming one God is incomprehensible to the human mind! However, this does not mean the Trinity is not true or that it is not based on the Bible. And it does not mean that we take it only on faith without earnest study and contemplation.

The Word "Trinity" Is Not in the Bible
In any discussion of this doctrine, the two words used most often are "triune" and "trinity".

  • The word "triune" is derived from the Latin tri meaning "having, combining, or involving three" and unus meaning "one".
  • The word "trinity" derives either from the Greek trias or the Latin trinitas meaning "threefold" or "a set of three things that form a single unit".

No matter which translation of the Bible you use or how diligently you search, you won't find either word in the Bible.

The Trinity Is a Revealed Doctrine
Although you will not find the words "triune God" or "Trinity" anywhere in the Bible, we do find the term "Godhead" three times in the King James Bible:

  • "Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man's device." (Acts 17:29 emphasis added)

  • "For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:" (Romans 1:20 emphasis added)

  • "For in him [Christ] dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily." (Colossians 2:9 emphasis added)

Other translations use the terms "deity", "divine nature", "divine being", and "eternal character" in place of "Godhead". Why not simply use the term "God"? Because it is impossible to define the God of the Bible by a single word. 1 Kings 8:27b tells us: "...Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you..." If the "highest heaven" cannot contain God, how can a single name or word describe Him?

That's why we see Him in Scripture, not only as YHWH [Yahweh/Jehovah], but by more than 50 other names/attributes (Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai, YHWH-Jireh, El Elyon, etc.).

What we learn from studying His names/designations is that no finite word(s) can adequately define the infinite personality, character, and attributes of our God! Really, can one name ever be adequate to God's immenseness?

As we already mentioned, the word "Trinity" does not appear in your Bible. That's because the doctrine of the Trinity is a purely revealed doctrine. It embodies a truth which cannot be observed by natural reason. In Isaiah 55:9, God says: " the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." No doubt, that is certainly the case in the doctrine and mystery of the Trinity. It is one of the deepest truths of God that mere human intellect can never fully discern or attain.

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"The LORD Is One"
For obvious reasons, the primary argument against the doctrine of the Trinity stems from the following Scriptures that seem to teach that there is only one God.

  • "Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one." [In Hebrew: "Sh'ma, Yisra'el! Adonai Eloheinu, Adonai echad"] (Deuteronomy 6:4)
  • "...all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God; there is no other." (1 Kings 8:60)
  • "This is what the LORD says — Israel's King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God." (Isaiah 44:6)
  • "...Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock; I know not any." (Isaiah 44:8b)
  • See also 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5.

Can Three Be "One"?
Let's not be too hasty in answering that question. Some other lesser-known Bible translations render the verse in Deuteronomy 6:4...

    "The LORD is our God, the LORD is one,"
    "The LORD is our God, the LORD alone."

Notice that the focus is on the idea of one God — one Object of worship. At the time this command was given, all the other countries and cultures around Israel served multiple gods and goddesses. So, the worship of only one Deity was unique and in sharp contrast to most of the world's other theologies.

When God gave the Law to Moses, He began in Exodus 20 with an emphasis of Himself as the one God to worship: "You shall have no other gods before me." (Exodus 20:3). There clearly could be no other gods in their lives.

"The Two Shall Become One"
The Hebrew word for "one" in Deuteronomy 6:4 is ´echâd. It means "united, alike, alone, altogether" and is the same Hebrew word used for "one" in Genesis 2:24, which states: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (emphasis added)

When a couple marries, they don't actually become one person. Rather, just as the word ´echâd intends, they become of one heart, mind, and purpose.

See also Genesis 34:16,22; Ezekiel 37:17.

The same Hebrew word ´echâd is translated "first" almost 200 times elsewhere in Scripture. Obviously, God's intent, then, in using this word to describe His unique relationship to Israel, was that He should be first, that He should be the one and only God in their — and in our — lives.

The Triune Composition of Creation
Romans 1:20 says: "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse." (emphasis added)

Just as an artist's personality, nature, and character are reflected in his paintings or sculptures, the above verse seems to say that we can learn about God's attributes, power, and nature by looking at what He has made. Is that true? Has God left His fingerprints on creation? Yes, He has.

However, the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be discovered or discerned by intellect or by mere human reason. Many people throughout Church history have tried to use things in nature to illustrate the Trinity. I mentioned H2O at the beginning of this lesson, but one of the best analogies I've come across is the following from "Another Look at the Trinity" by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry. "Another Look at the Trinity" by Matt Slick of the Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry.

Basically, the universe consists of three elements: Time, Space, and Matter. Each of these is comprised of three 'components.'

As the Trinitarian doctrine maintains, each of the persons of the Godhead is distinct, yet they are all each, by nature, God.

With time, for example, the past is distinct from the present, which is distinct from the future. Each is simultaneous, yet they are not three 'times,' but one. That is, they all share the same nature: time.

With space, height is distinct from width, which is distinct from depth, which is distinct from height. Yet, they are not three 'spaces,' but one. That is, they all share the same nature: space.

With matter, solid is not the same as liquid, which is not the same as gas, which is not the same as solid. Yet, they are not three 'matters,' but one. That is, they all share the same nature: matter.

Note that there are three sets of threes — a trinity of trinities. In seeing these qualities in creation, is it reasonable to presumptuously conclude that these aren't a reflection of the One who created it all? Might this trinity of trinities not point to the true triune nature of God?

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A Closer Look at the Three Persons of the Godhead
Although the above illustrations may give us a picture of the Trinity, they remain extra-Biblical truth. Really, any analogies to the Trinity in nature will always be inadequate, because an infinite God cannot be fully described by finite illustrations.

We have studied about who God is, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. We have acknowledged that each One is a distinct Person working in concert with each other — united in purpose, power, and nature.

We call this concert the Trinity or Godhead. The two best-known Bible verses that reveal the truth of their triune nature are found in:

  • Matthew 28:19 when Jesus said: "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." (emphasis added)

    Rules of grammar dictate that if these three — Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — are three separate Beings, then this verse would read: "...baptizing them in the names of..." However, Jesus used the singular noun "name" when mentioning all three Persons.

  • 1 John 5:7 where the Apostle John wrote: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one." (emphasis added)

God Speaks about Himself in Plural Forms
The doctrine of the Trinity is given to us in Scripture, not in specific words or by definition, but in infrequent and incomplete passing references. In bringing these references together into their revealed unity, we are not rejecting Scripture in favor of a non-Biblical conclusion. Rather, we are embracing a revelation given by God and entering into a more thorough understanding of all that He is and wants to be to us and in us.

The Plurality of "Adonai" and "Elohim"
God first revealed His triune nature in His initial revelation of the Creation. "In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth." (Genesis 1:1)

The original Hebrew word for "God" in the Creation narrative is "Elohim", which is a plural noun. [See the discussion of the plural nouns "Elohim" and "Adonai" in the lesson "Who Is God in Judaism?".] So, when God used phrases like "Elohim completed His work which He had done..." (Genesis 2:1b TS98) or other verses incorporating the plural noun "Elohim" with the singular pronouns "He" or "His", He was in fact revealing to humankind that He was/is not only plural in majesty [as in "holy, holy, holy"], but also plural in nature. Such a concept is completely illogical and one that man, in seeking for a "higher power" outside of himself, would never create on his own!

While the plural names "Elohim" and "Adonai" are not an explicit argument for, or definitive proof of, the Trinity, they do denote the aspect of plurality in God. Thus, these Hebrew names definitely allow for the Trinity.

God Uses Plural Pronouns
Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.'" (Genesis 1:26a emphasis added).

"Then the LORD God said, 'Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil...'" (Genesis 3:22a emphasis added)

"And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?'" (Isaiah 6:8a emphasis added)

This concept of plurality developed via progressive revelation to incorporate the involvement of...

The Word Became Flesh
God revealed His triune nature to the Apostle John, too, who wrote: "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 was not any thing made that was made." (John 1:1-3 emphasis added).

Not only does the last phrase put to rest the teaching that Jesus is a created being — which some cults teach — but from a strictly human standpoint, these sentences make no sense. How could Jesus [the Word] be "with God" and also be God? It is perhaps the most illogical statement anyone's ever written! And again, it's not one that man, in desiring a God separate from and superior to himself, would ever develop on his own! What a marvelous mystery and revelation the Lord gave to John!

Not Human, But Personable
To say that God is complex would be a gross understatement! "Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! 'For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?'" (Romans 11:33-34 via Isaiah 40:13, Jeremiah 23:18).

However, God is not so complex that we cannot know Him. He inspired the Bible to be written so anyone can understand and draw near to Him. The difference is that God is not human. As such, we cannot describe Him in the same way as we would describe another human. The gods of every other religion can be described in "normal" terms since they were invented in the minds of men. And by denying the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity, even some "Christian" cults invent their own descriptions of God in an ill-fated attempt to force Him into a human-shaped mold.

But the fact remains, He is not human. However, He can be, and wants to be, understood by us! In the next lesson, we'll take a closer look at the distinct personalities, divine attributes, and interactions among the three Persons of the Godhead — and their interactions with us.

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