I was recently watching one of my favorite video podcasts when the host made a passing comment that he just couldn’t see the Trinity in Scripture. Because I knew the man’s religion, this didn’t come as a surprise to me, but it did provoke deeper thought on the subject. While the Trinity is an essential Christian doctrine, it can be taken for granted at times. We just believe it, but we never examine why and most of us probably don’t spend much time defending it. There are more than a few religions that claim the title of Christian yet do not believe in a triune God. For this reason, it is imperative that we learn what the Bible has to say about the Trinity and how to respond to skeptics.
WHAT ¨TRINITY” MEANS
The trinity can be a difficult concept to understand and there are many illustrations that attempt to explain it. Matt Perman defines the Trinity as, ¨… one God who eternally exists as three distinct Persons — the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Stated differently, God is one in essence and three in person. These definitions express three crucial truths: (1) the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct Persons, (2) each Person is fully God, (3) there is only one God.¨
My husband and I have always explained that the Trinity is reflected in every one of us. We are each body, soul and spirit in one person, which is a beautiful reflection of the Image of God.
THE TRINITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
While some believe that the Old Testament only speaks of one God and makes no mention of the idea of the Trinity, there is actually a wealth of information on the subject.
Take for example, Genesis 1:26-27, where God refers to Himself with, “Us,” and “Our,” both plural pronouns, while Moses follows up with the singular pronouns, “His,” and “He.”
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.
When God was addressing Adam’s sin, He referred to Himself in both plural and singular forms.
Then the Lord God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”— therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.
Later, at the Tower of Babel, God refers to Himself in a similar way.
And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.” So the Lord scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth, and they ceased building the city. Therefore its name is called Babel, because there the Lord confused the language of all the earth; and from there the Lord scattered them abroad over the face of all the earth.
In Isaiah 6:8, God again uses both plural and singular pronouns.
Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying:
“Whom shall I send,
And who will go for Us?”
Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.”
The very word, “Elohim,” that is used frequently for God, is itself plural, yet uses a singular verb!
Isaiah 48 is a very clear picture of the Trinity. It is clear throughout the chapter that God is the one speaking to Israel. In verses 12 through the first part of 14, God says,
“Listen to Me, O Jacob, And Israel, My called: I am He, I am the First, I am also the Last. Indeed My hand has laid the foundation of the earth, And My right hand has stretched out the heavens; When I call to them, They stand up together. “All of you, assemble yourselves, and hear!
Keeping in mind that it is unquestionably God speaking, verse 16 declares,
“Come near to Me, hear this:
I have not spoken in secret from the beginning;
From the time that it was, I was there.
And now the Lord God and His Spirit
Have sent Me.”
In case you missed it, there are 3 persons in this verse.
1. God – the First and the Last, the One who laid the foundation of the Earth and whose hand stretched out the heavens.
2. The Lord God – Adonai Yahweh or Adonai Jehovah.
3. The Spirit of God
Finally, the Bible repeatedly states that no one can or has seen God (Jn 1:18, Deut 4:12-15, 1 Jn 4:12, Ex 33:20), yet there are several places in the Old Testament where people did see God. Jesus explains the apparent contradiction, as recorded in John 6:46,
Not that anyone has seen the Father, except He who is from God; He has seen the Father.
Since the Father has never been seen by a human being, the appearances of God in the Old Testament support the doctrine of the Trinity. Let’s look at some of those appearances. (key verses in red)
Hagar Sees God
Now the Angel of the Lord found her by a spring of water in the wilderness, by the spring on the way to Shur. And He said, “Hagar, Sarai’s maid, where have you come from, and where are you going?” She said, “I am fleeing from the presence of my mistress Sarai.”
The Angel of the Lord said to her, “Return to your mistress, and submit yourself under her hand.” Then the Angel of the Lord said to her, “I will multiply your descendants exceedingly, so that they shall not be counted for multitude.” …
… Then she called the name of the Lord who spoke to her, You-Are-the-God-Who-Sees; for she said, “Have I also here seen Him who sees me?”
Genesis 16:7-10, 13
Abraham Sees God
Then the Lord appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant. Please let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. And I will bring a morsel of bread, that you may refresh your hearts. After that you may pass by, inasmuch as you have come to your servant.”
They said, “Do as you have said.” …
… Then the men rose from there and looked toward Sodom, and Abraham went with them to send them on the way. And the Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am doing, since Abraham shall surely become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice, that the Lord may bring to Abraham what He has spoken to him.” And the Lord said, “Because the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah is great, and because their sin is very grave, I will go down now and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry against it that has come to Me; and if not, I will know.”
Then the men turned away from there and went toward Sodom, but Abraham still stood before the Lord.
Genesis 18:1-5; 16-22
Jacob Sees God
Then Jacob was left alone; and a Man wrestled with him until the breaking of day. Now when He saw that He did not prevail against him, He touched the socket of his hip; and the socket of Jacob’s hip was out of joint as He wrestled with him. And He said, “Let Me go, for the day breaks.” But he said, “I will not let You go unless You bless me!” So He said to him, “What is your name?” He said, “Jacob.”
And He said, “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel; for you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked, saying, “Tell me Your name, I pray.” And He said, “Why is it that you ask about My name?” And He blessed him there. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: “For I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved.”
Moses, Aaron, Nadam, Abihu and 70 elders of Israel See God
Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.
The Trinity is the only reasonable explanation apart from polytheism to reconcile the idea of God being invisible and unseen by man with the instances of God not only appearing in bodily form, but also conversing, dining and even wrestling people. These and other appearances of God throughout Old Testament history also explain the pre-existence of the Son of God, who as eternally existed as the second Person of the Trinity. (See also “Was Jesus Always Worshiped as God?”)
THE TRINITY IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
In the New Testament, we see the Father sending the Son into the world through conception by the Holy Spirit, the Father speaking from Heaven and the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at the baptism of Jesus, and both the Son and the Father sending the Holy Spirit as a helper to God’s people. Upon careful reading, it is plain to see that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are each distinct persons but only one God. The concept of the Trinity is clearly spelled out in Matthew 28.
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…
Throughout the New Testament, Father, Son and Holy Spirit are each recognized as God, such as in the scriptures below.
Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…
Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
2 Corinthians 1:3-4
Your father Abraham rejoiced at the thought of seeing my day; he saw it and was glad. “You are not yet fifty years old,” the Jews said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!” “I tell you the truth,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds…
… waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
The Holy Spirit
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
… for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
2 Peter 1:21
There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all…
1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Finally, when we look at the Bible as a whole, there are many attributes of God, such as omnipotence 1, omniscience2 and omnipresence 3, that are applied to Father, Son and Holy Spirit. These characteristics and others are only attributable to God. We worship One God whose nature is made up of three distinct persons, each with a unique purpose and function as God relates to humanity. Although the Trinity may be difficult to understand, there is no room for debate on this essential doctrine of Christianity.
1. Is 64:8; Jn 1:3; Jb 33:4
2. 1 Jn 3:20; Jn 16:30; 1 Cor 2:10
3. 1 Ki 8:27; Mt 28:20; Ps 139:7-10