“The Trinity,” the doctrine that there is one God who eternally exists as three persons, is foundational in Christian belief. I’m briefly referencing it in this weekend’s message at The Bridge. But since there is not time in that message to give the Biblical basis for it, I thought this would be a good place to lay out what the Scriptures teach.
While we would be hard pressed to point to a single passage that clearly lays out the doctrine, we know from early church writings that Christians believed it in its simplest form in their earliest days. But their understanding of the doctrine was debated and expanded over the first three centuries of the Church.
Here’s what we know from Scripture:
• There is One God. This was the single belief that set the Israelites apart from all other nations surrounding them. They staunchly held to this declaration of Moses in Deuteronomy 6:4, “The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Early Christians, being good Jews, held to this doctrine and it was an understood foundation to everything else they believed. One example is found in 1 Timothy 2:5, where the Apostle Paul affirmed, “There is one God.”
• This God has a plural dimension. It is interesting that even in the above quoted Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), while “The Lord” is the Hebrew word for God’s name, Yahweh, the Hebrew word that is translated, “God,” is Elohim, which is a plural form. And a number of times in the Old Testament, pronouns used for God are plural (Genesis 1:26). While the writers of these passages believed strongly in a single God, they were inspired to use words to describe this one God that seem to hint at a later revealed doctrine about him.
• Three people are identified as God. 1) The Father is called God (Matthew 6:26-30). 2) Jesus is called God (John 1:1, John 20:28). 3) The Holy Spirit is also called God (Acts 5:3-4). So three different people are called God in the Bible, even though the Bible proclaims there to be just one God. How could this be?
• The Holy Trinity. There is one God who exists in three persons. The three are equally God and are of a single substance, yet individual persons who interact with one another and among their created beings in unique ways. So those of us who belong to this one God enjoy a relationship with all three persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one God. And this is why Jesus commanded us to baptize his followers, “…in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
So…God is three in one.