“If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about.”C. S. Lewis
The Christian belief in the Trinity is undoubtedly difficult, so why do Christians believe it? Quite simply because we find it in the Bible. Some will object that the word Trinity never appears in the Bible, but the term was coined to summarise the teaching that is contained in it. The Christian faith was not the invention of men but the revelation of God to men. Very little could be known of God unless He chose to reveal Himself to us. He revealed Himself in nature (Psalm 19:1-6), the Bible (Psalm 19:7-10), but ultimately in His Son, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:1-14; John 1:18).
Some object that it is illogical to say that God is one and three. But as Norman Geisler has pointed out:
The philosophical law of non-contradiction informs us that something cannot be both true and false at the same time and in the same sense. This is the fundamental law of all rational thought. And the doctrine of the Trinity does not violate it. This can be shown by stating first of all what the Trinity is not. The Trinity is not the belief that God is three persons and only one person at the same time and in the same sense. That would be a contradiction. Rather, it is the belief that there are three persons in one nature. This may be a mystery but it is not a contradiction. That is, it may go beyond reason’s ability to comprehend completely, but it does not go against reason’s ability to apprehend consistently.Norman Geisler
WHAT THE BIBLE TEACHES
We can summarise the Bible’s teaching in this way:
▪ There is only one God
▪ Three persons are described as God
▪ These persons are distinct from one another
The conclusion that follows is that either the Bible is self-contradictory or, as Christians have historically believed and taught, the God of the Bible is a tri-unity of persons.
THERE IS ONLY ONE GOD
The Bible insists that there is only one God. One of the classic passages for Jewish believers is known as the Shema: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one!” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Yet Israel repeatedly struggled with idolatrous worship. In response, the prophet Isaiah emphasises:
“I am the LORD, and there is no other; There is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other.”Isaiah 45:5-6
The New Testament agrees. Paul lists the truths which all Christians confess are:
“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.”Ephesians 4:4-6
But while the Bible emphasises God’s uniqueness, even the Old Testament (Jewish) Scriptures allow for God’s plural Being. The word used for God in the Hebrew language, Elohim, is a plural word. At creation we find God saying, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26). And even the word used in the classic Jewish Shema for “one” means a unity. It is the same word used with regard to marriage, that a man and a woman become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24), or when Israel is described as gathering together for war: “So all the men of Israel were gathered against the city, united together as one man” (Judges 20:11).
THREE PERSONS ARE DESCRIBED AS GOD
The Bible’s argument for the uniqueness of God insists that He does things that no one else can do. It emphasises His works and His essential nature as that which none others share:
“I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another, Nor My praise to carved images.”Isaiah 42:8
Yet when we come to the New Testament we find these unique characteristics and names of God being applied to Jesus, the Son of God. (Due to space limitations, we cannot consider the many other names shared by Father and Son, nor the evidence for the personality of the Holy Spirit.)
Who is the Creator?
The Bible says that God alone is the Creator (Job 38-41). Yet the Bible also says of the Lord Jesus:
“All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”John 1:3
“For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.”Colossians 1:16
“[God] has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds.”Hebrews 1:2
Who is the Judge of all men?
The Bible says that God is the judge of all men (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 9:7-8). Yet the Bible also says of the Lord Jesus:
“And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead.”Acts 10:42
“For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honour the Son just as they honour the Father. He who does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent Him.”
Who is the Lord?
God said through the prophet Isaiah: “I am the LORD, that is My name; And My glory I will not give to another” (Isaiah 42:8). Yet John the Baptist, in describing his ministry of announcing the coming of Jesus Christ, said he was
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Make straight the way of the LORD,’ as the prophet Isaiah said.”John 1:23
Peter said of Jesus:
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”Acts 2:36
And the apostle Paul, quoting from an Old Testament passage about God (Isaiah 45:23), wrote:
Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.Philippians 2:9-11
John describes Jesus as “king of kings and Lord of Lords,” (Revelation 19:16). Paul said that nobody could truly say that Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Yet these same Christians would rather die as martyrs than to declare that Caesar was Lord.
THESE THREE ARE DISTINCT PERSONS
Some have argued that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are simply three ways of describing the one person. However, the Bible maintains a clear distinction between these persons while holding to their essential unity. The distinctions are seen at Jesus’s baptism where the Son is in the water, the Spirit descends in the form of a dove, and the Father speaks from heaven and says, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:17). In His command to make disciples, Jesus said we were to baptise in the name (singular) of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). And repeatedly we find Jesus praying to His Father and promising to send the Spirit (John 14-17).
The distinction of these three persons is seen not at the level of their essential Being, but rather in their relationship with one another and in their functions. Essentially, the Son is equal to the Father, but functionally, He is subject to the Father. In a great three stanza hymn of praise to the God of our salvation (Ephesians 1:3-14), Paul distinguishes the will of the Father, the work of the Son, and the witness of the Holy Spirit, ending each Person’s unique contribution with a note of praise and worship.
WHY DOES IT MATTER?
It would certainly be easier to abandon this teaching than to try and explain it. But we hold to this teaching for several reasons.
First, because the Bible teaches it.
Second, because if Jesus is not God, He cannot save us. If He was merely a man, His death would not have been a sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. And if He was merely a man, He would have been a sinner like the rest of us and disqualified from being our Saviour from sin. But Paul calls Him “our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), and Peter agrees, speaking of Him as “our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:1).
Admittedly, these are difficult concepts to grasp. But when we accept them, like “doubting” Thomas, we fall before the One who loved us and gave Himself for us, and worship Him, acknowledging, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).