It’s one of the most difficult Christian teachings to grasp – that God is a Trinity – that He is THREE but also ONE. This difficulty, added to the fact that it is one of the least understood Christian teachings, also makes it one of the most criticised. Some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Latter Day Saints and Christian Scientists, say it’s simply not true. But the Trinity is one of the most important Christian teachings and is foundational to all other major doctrines of the Christian faith. For example, if God is not triune then Jesus is not God. If Jesus isn’t God then he wasn’t sinless. If he weren’t sinless he would have had to die for his own sins and not ours. If this were the case no one could be forgiven and reconciled to God. And on it goes.
While the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible, the concept is. It comes from two words – “tris” meaning “three” and “unus” meaning “one.” God is one but He is expressed in three distinct personalities – Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) God revealed Himself as a plurality in the very first chapter of the Bible when He said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” Two chapters later, “the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us.” We find God speaking in plural form all the way through Genesis (cf. 11:7; 18:1-2,10,13-14) and using plural names like Elohim and Adonai.
In the New Testament there are literally dozens of references to the Trinity. Some of the more profound ones are:
- The baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:16-17)
- The great commission (Matthew 28:19)
- The promise of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17)
- The gifts of the Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-6)
- The benediction (2 Corinthians 13:14)
- The plan of redemption (Hebrews 9:14)
- The love of God (1 John 4:16)
This last point is very interesting when we consider that “God is love.” By its very nature love needs an object in order to exist. In the eternity before God created, perfect love existed between the members of the Godhead (theotés): the personal and extremely relational God who is clearly seen in the person of Jesus (Colossians 2:9).
The teaching of the Trinity simply states that the Father, Son & Holy Spirit are three distinct persons who make up one God. The Father is God (John 6:27); the Son is God (Matthew 1:23, “Emmanuel – which means, God with us.”) and the Holy Spirit is God (Acts 5:1-4).
I’ve heard a number of illustrations over the years that help us grasp the concept of the Trinity. A family can consist of a mother, father and a child – three distinct persons but one family. A musical chord is made up of three different notes – three sounds that make up one sound. Water can exist as a liquid, a gas and a vapor but it’s all H20. The sun gives us light, heat and radiation; three distinct aspects, but only one sun. If we were to use maths, God would not be 1+1+1=3 but rather 1x1x1=1.
While any illustration ultimately falls short of fully describing the Trinity, all of these are helpful for us as limited human beings to grasp something of an infinite and eternal God. And that’s important to remember. Would a god that I could fully explain to you be worth knowing? How can a finite mind fully grasp an infinite God? It would be easier to fit the Pacific Ocean into a teacup!
But there is one thing more important than knowing about God, and that’s knowing God. And that’s why Jesus came. God in human form – “with us” – that we might know Him.