To the Seeker with Intellectual Questions
How Can God Be Three-In-One?
An Overview of the Biblical Basis for the “Trinity” Doctrine
by M. Tyner, M.A., Christian Apologetics
People often ask: "How can God exist as three Persons and yet be one God?" Others ask: "Why do Christians believe in the Trinity when that term doesn’t appear in the Bible?" Such questions about this essential Christian doctrine are vital. For if it is true that the Bible is the written revelation complete from God to mankind, then: (a) the consequences of distorting the nature of God are disastrous, (b) prayers to God are useless if they do not connect with the true and living God, and (c) lives are meaningless and perishing for those individuals who do not come to embrace the truth of who God is and what He has revealed concerning life and death! The doctrine of the Trinity is essential to the understanding of the Scriptures (the Bible), and the glory of the Gospel depends upon this truth.(1)
UNDERSTANDING THE "TRINITY"
While no symbol exists in the material universe that can adequately convey the Trinity (tri-unity of God), perhaps the nearest one is the triquetra symbol that appears on the cover of the NKJV Bible. Note that it is made of one continuous line, symbolizing the one eternal Godhead with three distinct Persons. The Bible teaches that all three Personalities (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) are interconnected, sharing the one divine essence.
I. The Triune Nature of God
The Bible presents God as one Being, who exists in three distinguishable Persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three Persons in the one Godhead are coeternal, coexistent, and coequal. In other words, there are three "eternal distinctions" in the one divine essence.(2) The Son and the Spirit are subordinate in role to the Father, yet they are equal in essence. Of course, much about the complex nature of God remains a profound mystery. God is a unique Marvelous Being (Exodus 9:13-14; Jeremiah 10:6-7) incomprehensible to the finite human mind (Isaiah 40:25-26; 55:8-9; Romans 11:33). Surely if God were small enough for us to understand, He wouldn’t be big enough for us to worship!
II. The Five-Step Scriptural Defense for the Trinity
While the term "Trinity" does not appear in the Bible, the Bible’s logical and progressive teaching concerning the nature of God leads to the conclusion of the "Trinity." It is extremely important to accept what God has directly revealed about Himself in the Bible (orthodoxy) rather than seeking to read into the text what is not there to aid in human understanding (heresies).
Step 1. There is only one God.
Numerous explicit statements in the Old and New Testaments declare there is only ONE God of the entire universe. The Bible emphasizes throughout that God is one (monotheism). Deuteronomy 6:4 states: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Some other examples are:
Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 32:39; Isaiah 43:10-11, 45:5-6; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Kings 8:60.
New Testament Examples:
Romans 3:30, 16:27; Ephesians 4:6; James 2:19; Jude 25; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Mark 12:29-32.
Step 2. Each of the three Persons are called "God."
The Father is called "God."
See John 17:3; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Ephesians 1:3; 1 Thessalonians 1:1; Galatians 1:1.
The Son is called "God."
See John 1:1-3; Isaiah 9:6; John 8:58-59; Matthew1:22-23; Hebrews 1:8.
The Holy Spirit is called "God."
See Acts 5:3-4; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18; Genesis 1:2; Isaiah 61:1.
Step 3. Each of the three Persons is Distinct.
Jesus is not the Father; Jesus is not the Holy Spirit; and the Father is not the Holy Spirit.
There is a "three in oneness."
See 1 John 5:7; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Matthew 28:19.
Jesus is not the Father.
See John 14:6-11; John 1:1, 3:16; John 17:5.
Jesus is not the Holy Spirit.
See Luke 3:21-22; John 14:16-17; John 16:7, 13-14.
The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
See John 14:26; John 15:26; Romans 8:26-27.
Step 4. Each of the three Persons posseses the attributes of God.
Each of the three Persons is (1) omniscient, (2) omnipotent, (3) omnipresent, (4) eternal, (5) holy, and (6) creator.
The Father possesses all 6 of these attributes:
(1) Hebrews 4:13; 1 John 3:20; Psalms 147:5,
(2) Job 42:2; Matthew 19:26; Revelation 19:6,
(3) 1 Kings 8:27; Jeremiah 23:23-24,
(4) Genesis 21:33; Psalms 102:24-28; Isaiah 40:28,
(5) Joshua 24:19; Psalms 99:5,9,
(6) Genesis 1:1; Psalms 102:24-25.
The Son possesses all 6 of these attributes:
(1) John 2:23-25; 16:30, 21:17; Acts 1:24,
(2) Matthew 28:18; Colossians 1:17; Hebrews 1:3,
(3) Matthew 18:20; Matthew 28:19-20; 2 Corinthians 13:5,
(4) John 1:1; John 17:5, 24,
(5) Mark 1:24; Acts 3:14, 4:27, 30,
(6) John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16.
The Holy Spirit possesses all 6 of these attributes:
(1) 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; John 14:26; 16:12,13
(2) Luke 1:35,
(3) Psalms 139:7-10,
(4) Hebrews 9:14,
(5) Romans 1:4,
(6) Job 33:4; Psalms 104:30.
Step 5. Conclusion
Therefore, all three Persons are in the one Godhead, the "TRINITY."
III. Grasping for a Glimpse of the Trinity
Man trying to grasp the infinite Creator is a mind-boggling exercise in futility. However, if we meditate on Biblical terms that describe the attributes of God, and then combine and compound them, we can begin to fathom (and appreciate) an inkling of God’s majesty, and might, and dimensionality!(3) In theological terms, the God of the Bible is omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, and immutable. He is also personal, pure love, pure light, holy, just, righteous, and awesome. Note that in mathematical terms, the concept of the Trinity is expressed not as 1 + 1 + 1 = 3, but rather as 1 x 1 x 1 = 1.
A FAINT ANALOGY OF THE TRINITY
There are three forms of water. H20 can exist simultaneously as water, ice, and steam (liquid, solid, and vapor). These three forms do not alter the nature of H20. All three remain H20. Likewise, the Trinity consists of three simultaneous Personalities – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (which are coexistent and coeternal).
IV. The Trinity Doctrine is Progressively Revealed in the Bible
The Old Testament presents the plurality within God’s unity and anticipates the fuller New Testament teaching of the Trinity. The first reference to the Trinity is in the story of Creation. God (Elohim) created by means of the Word and the Spirit (Genesis 1:1-3). "Elohim" is the Hebrew plural noun "God," indicating compound unity. And the plural pronoun "Us" is used in Genesis 1:26, 3:22, 11:7; and Isaiah 6:8. The three Persons of the Trinity are seen in Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1, with the Son (Messiah) in both passages (compare with Luke 4:16-21).(4) Consider also the Old Testament Christophanies (appearances of the pre-incarnate Christ). Then in the New Testament, the Trinity doctrine becomes crystal clear.(5) The New Testament consistently presents a triad of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Passages in the New Testament which presuppose, imply, or state God’s tri-unity include: Matthew 3:13-17; 28:19; John 14:15-26; Acts 2:32-38; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Ephesians 1:1-14; 3:16-19).(6)
When we consider that God’s triune being is far greater than we can ever comprehend, it humbles us before Him. (7) And when we consider God’s sacrificial love for us, it draws us to worship Him. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son [Jesus], that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). When we place our faith in Jesus Christ and in His atoning work on the cross, God grants us forgiveness of sin and eternity in heaven. We are given a new life in Christ, regenerated by the Holy Spirit (see John 3:3,5). "Holy, holy, holy, merciful and mighty, God in three persons, blessed Trinity!"
Sample Prayer to Receive Jesus:
"Father God, thank You for sending Your Son to die for our sins and to rise again, so that we can live with you eternally. Thank You for sending the Holy Spirit to draw me to Yourself. Thank You for forgiving me for my sins. I believe in Your Son, Jesus, and His work on the cross for me. I receive Him as my personal Lord and Savior. In Jesus’ name, Amen."
1. Unger, Merrill F. The New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, Moody Press.
2. Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology, Wm. Eerdman’s Pub.
3. Source unknown.
4. Barackman, Floyd H. Practical Christian Theology, Kregel Pub.
5. Morey, Robert. The Trinity: Evidence and Issues, World Bible Pub.
6. Milne, Bruce. Know the Truth, InterVarsity Press.
7. Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, Zondervan Pub.