What is the Trinity?-Derek Wadsworth

State briefly the biblical basis for and formulated the doctrine of the trinity

God eternally exists in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

A. Definition of the doctrine of the Trinity

Believing in the unity of God is saying that God is one Being. He does not exist in separate parts, and there is no more than one Divine Being. But I aline myself with trinitarian monotheists, because through revelation we understand that the one God exists in three Persons. And therefore we believe in the tri unity (or trinity) of God—the tri-personal nature of the one God. He has eternally existed and will continue to exist as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is the doctrine of the Trinity.

The following quotations express belief in the Trinity:

“. . . we worship one God in Trinity and Trinity in Unity, neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the Substance; for there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Ghost. But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost is all one; the glory equal, the majesty co eternal” (The Athanasian Creed).

“There are three persons within the Godhead; the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory” (The Westminster Shorter Catechism).

“There is one Divine essence which is called and is God, eternal without body, indivisible, of infinite power, wisdom, goodness, the Creator and Preserver of all things, visible and invisible. And yet there are three Persons of the same essence and power, who also are co eternal, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (The Augsburg Confession).

“We should, like the little children, stammer out what the Scriptures teach: that Christ is truly God, that the Holy Ghost is truly God, and yet that there are not three Gods, or three Beings, as there are three Men, three Angels, three Sons, or three Windows. No, God is not thus divided in his essence; but there is one only divine Being or substance. Therefore, although there are three persons, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, yet the Being is not divided or distinguished since there is but one God in one single, undivided, divine substance” (Martin Luther, quoted by Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Vol. I, p. 466).

More simply, one can share the fact of the Trinity in any of the following ways:

“God is one in Substance, three in Persons,” or
“God is one Being who is three Persons.” or
“God is one Being who is tri-personal.”

NOTE: Substance, essence, or being can be used synonymously when speaking of the oneness of God. Any correct expression of the doctrine of the Trinity must stress the oneness of God’s Substance, Essence or Being and the threeness of His Persons.

Scriptural basis for the doctrine of the Trinity.

Opponents of the Christian faith sometimes claim that the early Christian councils originated the doctrine of the Trinity. That, of course, is not true. The early councils in no way originated this doctrine; they merely defined it, and put into summary form the information which they found in the Scriptures about the tri unity of God.

Scripture is full of information about this truth. In fact, if you omit the doctrine of the Trinity, the Bible becomes self contradictory. That is why this is such a foundational doctrine. It makes the rest of the Bible understandable.

In summary, biblical evidence for the Trinity is:

1. Implicit in the Old Testament.

a. Through the use of plurals in connection with God (e.g., Genesis 1:26 27, Genesis 3:22, Genesis 11:7, Isaiah 6:8). While these plurals must not be unduly pressed as evidence for the trinitarian nature of God (some explain them as “plurals of majesty” instead), yet Charles Hodge’s statement is fair when he writes, “Even in the book of Genesis there are intimations of the doctrine which receive their true interpretation in later revelations. That the names of God are in the plural form; that the personal pronouns are often in the first person plural (‘Let us make man in our image’); that the form of benediction is three fold, and other facts of like nature, may be explained in different ways. But when it becomes plain, from the progress of revelation, that there are three persons in the Godhead, then such forms of expression can hardly fail to be recognized as having their foundation in that great truth” (Systematic Theology, Vol. I. pp. 446 447).

b. Through the fact that in the Old Testament (a) there is Yahweh, (b) there is the Angel of Yahweh to whom deity is ascribed (Gen. 16:7 14, Gen. 22:10 12, Num. 22:31 35, Josh. 5:13 15), and (c) there is the Spirit of Yahweh (Gen. 6:3, Neh. 9:20, Ps. 51:11, Ps. 104:30, Isa. 40:13, Isa. 48:16, Isa. 63:10 11).

2. Explicit in the New Testament.

a. Through the New Testament teaching that three distinct Persons are God.

1) There is the Father who is God (Matthew 5:48, Matthew 6:9, Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, Galatians 1:1 4)

2) There is the Son who is God. This is shown by the fact that:

a) Jesus made the claims of Deity. (Mark 14:61 64, John 5:17 18,
John 10:29 33, John 14:1, 9).

b) Jesus did (and does) the works of Deity.
(1) He forgave sins (Mark 2:5 7).
(2) He gave out divine instruction and law on His own authority (Matthew 5:21 22, 27 28, 31 32, etc.).
(3) He gives eternal life (John 10:28, John 17:2).
(4) He bestows resurrection life (John 5:25 29, John 6:39 44,
Philippines 3:21).
(5) He is the sovereign judge of the living and the dead (Matthew 25:31 46, John 5:22 23, 2 Timothy 4:1).

c) Jesus accepted prayer and worship as Deity. (Matthew 14:33, John 9:38, John 20:28, Acts 7:59, 1 Corinthians 1:2).

d) Jesus is called by the names of Deity.
(1) He is called “God” (John 1:1, John 20:28, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:2,
Hebrews 1:8 12).
(2) He is called “the Son of God” (about 40 times in the New Testament).
(3) He calls Himself “the First and the Last” (Revelation 1:17, cf.
Isaiah 44:6).
(4) He is called “the Holy One” (Acts 3:14, cf. Hosea 11:9).
(5) He is called “Lord, Lord of all, Lord of Glory” (Acts 4:33, Acts 10:36, Romans 10:9, 1 Corinthians 2:8).

iii. There is the Holy Spirit who is God. This is clear because:

a) The Holy Spirit is called God (Acts 5:3 4).

b) The Holy Spirit has the attributes of God (e.g., eternity/Hebrews 9:14, omnipotence/Luke 1:35, omniscience/1 Corinthians 2:10 11).

c) The Holy Spirit does the works of God (e.g., regeneration/John 3:5 8, resurrection/Romans 8:11, inspiration/2 Peter 1:21).

d) Words spoken by God in the Old Testament are said in the New to have been spoken by the Holy Spirit (cf. Isaiah 6:8 10 with Acts 28:25 27 and Psalm 95:8 11 with Hebrews 3:7 11).

b. Through the New Testament passages which speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in terms which imply both union and yet distinction. The three Persons of the Trinity do things which only distinct persons can do. They talk together, fellowship together, and work together. There is union, for Jesus can say in John 10:30, “I and My Father are one.” Yet there is also distinction, for while They are one, yet there is still both “I” and “My Father.” Compare also the account of the baptism of Jesus in Matthew 3:16 17 where the three Persons of the Godhead are intimately and yet distinctively active. The Father speaks from heaven, the Son is being baptized in the Jordan River, and the Holy Spirit descends from heaven. Throughout the New Testament we see the oneness of the Essence and the threeness of the Persons of the one true God.

c. Through the New Testament passages which directly mention the Triune God (Matthew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14).

So we see that this doctrine, present but veiled in the Old Testament, is clearly revealed in the New. God has told us this about Himself—that He is one God eternally existing in three Persons, and that He is known by the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Speaking of the one undivided Being of God and yet the three Persons of God,
Wayne Grudem writes,

“First, it is important to affirm that each person is completely and fully God; that is, that each person has the whole fullness of God’s being in himself. The Son is not partly God or just one-third of God, but the Son is wholly and fully God, and so is the Father and the Holy Spirit. . . . we must say that the person of the Father possesses the whole being of God in himself. Similarly, the Son possesses the whole being of God in himself, and the Holy Spirit possesses the whole being of God in himself. When we speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together we are not speaking of any greater being than when we speak of the Father alone, or the Son alone, or the Holy Spirit alone. The Father is all of God’s being. The Son also is all of God’s being. And the Holy Spirit is all of God’s being” (Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 252).

God in His undivided Essence exists as Father; God is His undivided Essence exists as Son; God in His undivided Essence exists as Holy Spirit. This is beyond our comprehension, but when we begin to get even a hint of this vast mystery of God’s nature, we start to realize that such simplistic illustrations as those above are for the Trinity more insulting than enlightening. I think we had best stay away from all these illustrations, and come to the place where we realize that any illustration of the Trinity is bound to be a bad one because God is not illustratable. He is not like anything else.

If we are to avoid distorting the doctrine of the Trinity, we must carefully heed the words of the Athanasian Creed, “neither confounding the Persons” (like the first type of distortion does) “nor dividing the Substance” (like the second type of distortion does).


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