One of the most difficult perplexities of the Christian religion is its doctrine of the Trinity—the triune nature of God. This doctrine is utterly unique from other religions, which are monotheistic (one god), pluralistic (many gods), or pantheistic (everything is divine). It even seems like concepts of monotheism, pluralism, and pantheism would completely cover all areas of the spectrum for the nature of the divine. But Christianity’s belief of God’s nature actually exists on an entirely different theological spectrum altogether: a God who is three in nature but one in essence. The very thought of such a concept is simply mind boggling and transcendent to human logic, imagination, or comprehension. Not only do non-Christians struggle with this ideology, but Christians struggle to make sense of it, too. Nevertheless, the importance of such a doctrine cannot be overstated or exaggerated: it is truly the foundation of the Christian religion, and if it were to be removed, the entire construct of Christianity would instantly topple over into shambles of illogic and uselessness. Therefore, in the following blog, I want to highlight the biblical basis for this doctrine, and then conclude by conveying some important truths it warrants.
Initially, although the Bible does not explicitly use the terms ‘trinity’ or ‘trinitarian’ or ‘triune’ to describe the nature of God, it nonetheless describes this God as existing in one essence, yet in three separate beings: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. There are several texts in both the Old Testament and New Testament that speak to this triune nature of God, thereby, serving to establish a theological framework of his nature from start to finish. Of course, while Jesus explicitly comes on the scene in the New Testament, the Old Testament mentions this coming Savior all throughout the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the Prophets, too. Let’s take a quick look to see what Scripture says about the nature of God.
One text that alludes to such a three-in-one description of the nature of God includes Genesis 1:1-2 and 1:26, which implies quite clearly that God’s nature exists as more than one being. For instance, Genesis 1:1-2—the first two verses of the Bible—reveal that God and the Spirit of God are separate beings, both preexisting and causing the origins of creation. Additionally, in Genesis 1:26, God says, ‘let us make man in our own image,’ thereby indicating that God’s nature is not just inherently singular.
Moreover, another group of texts that suggests the triune nature of God is John 1, Hebrews 1, and Colossians 1, which specifically argue for the divinity of Jesus, God the Son. First, John 1:1-3 says,
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Second, Hebrews 1:1-4 says,
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.”
And thirdly, Colossians 1:15-17 says,
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
Each of these texts undeniably exults Jesus as divine, existing as one part of the three-ness of God. These passages unequivocally communicate Jesus’ diety because they particularly highlight his preexistence of and involvement in creation, which are thought to be true marks of the divine.
Furthermore, other New Testament texts that also particularly imply the triune nature of God are John 16-17, Matthew 28:19, and 2 Corinthians 13:14. First, chapters 16 and 17 in the gospel of John document Jesus’ words to his disciples about how the Holy Spirit will come to them after Jesus ascends into heaven, leading them into all truth and comfort. Jesus tells his disciples that him leaving them and the Holy Spirit coming for them will actually be to their advantage. Is Jesus saying that the Holy Spirit is better than him, or more valuable? No, but he is communicating the sentiment that missions is impossible without the Holy Spirit because it will accomplish kingdom work all over the globe geographically, as opposed to Jesus, who is limited by geographic time and space upon entering into human form. In other words, while Jesus cannot be everywhere at the same time because of the limits of humanity that he assumed, the Spirit, on the other hand, can accomplish ministry everywhere through the commissioning and embodiment of many human vessels. Overall, in John 16-17, Jesus’ statement that the Spirit would be to their advantage communicates the Spirit’s deity, and the Spirit’s aim to glorify Jesus communicates Jesus’ deity (John 16:13-15). Additionally, John 17 includes Jesus praying to God the Father, revealing the oneness of the Father and the Son in essence and also the separateness of them as beings, too. These two chapters both serve to show direct, divine relationships between God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit—proving their divinity in essence, but also their individuality in being.
Moreover, Matthew 28:19, what is famously known as the Great Commission text, is another text that shows the triune nature of God. Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus’ inclusion of all three beings of God seems to further drive home the reality of God’s triune nature. And lastly, another text that seems to highlight the reality of the Trinity is 2 Corinthians 13:14, where Paul concludes his letter saying, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” Paul’s inclusion of these three in his doxology seems to strongly suggest his belief in the triune nature of God as well. Overall, each of these texts speaks to the reality that God is not singular in being, but singular in essence, yet triune in being.
Historically, the church has grappled with these difficult, counterintuitive, and allegedly contradictory truths about God’s nature. In fact, the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD and the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD convened in order to organizationally and systematically reach a conclusion about this somewhat confusing and enigmatic nature of God. However, at the Council of Nicaea, one of the most significant terms emerged to describe the nature of Christ as a part of the divine Godhead—homoousia, meaning, of the same substance. Agreeing that Jesus was completely divine while also completely man categorically meant that he was still God since he never sinned and maintained perfect fellowship with God the Father. At these conventions is where the doctrines of the trinity became formally recognized and systematically enforced as what the Scripture clearly and significantly teaches. Truly, these doctrines were not invented at these councils, but were formally recognized and ratified as the pure, biblical teachings from of old—all the way back to Genesis. Recognizing these truths, therefore, functions to guard the purity of these doctrines from the corrupting dangers of heresy.
Objections to this doctrine, however, are certainly not unwarranted. Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity obfuscates logic and complicates comprehension. Indeed, this doctrine transcends conventional frameworks for religious concepts. As a result, the popular objection rings out, “It doesn’t make sense, therefore, it cannot be true.” Aha! But upon deeper reflection, this common objection actually serves to debunk itself. What do I mean? Track with me here: How could humans invent a concept that they themselves can barely comprehend? How could Jesus’ disciples develop an entirely new paradigm for the nature of God, unique from all of humanity’s religious history, especially as Jews who were deeply entrenched in monotheism? The logical line of deduction, then, is that Christianity’s doctrine of God’s nature wasn’t invented by human logic, but was revealed by God in his Word.
Besides, why would these disciples concoct such a doctrine after all? Why ‘up the ante’ so to speak, for purposes of evangelism and conversion? If they were making this doctrine up, then why would they make it so difficult and complicated? The logical line of deduction, then, is to conclude that they thought this triune doctrine was and is the truth—regardless of whether or not it makes sense or regardless of whether or not it facilitates the effectiveness of conversion. If it’s true, then it deserves communication and explanation—and this mentality represents the exact sentiment of the disciples. Ultimately, many people use the counterintuitive nature of the Trinity as an objection, but its inherent counterintuitive-ness actually serves to accomplish just the opposite: it suggests this doctrine could not have been invented by the logic of humans, but revealed by the Word of God.
Lastly, it is important to note that vast and endless implications shoot forth from the doctrinal stem of the Trinity, warranting much fruit upon appropriate and proper application. Meaning, the implications of such a trinitarian doctrine provide and demand related applications from our lives. For instance, since God is triune and since we were made in his image, this means that we are inherently wired for community and relationships. Moreover, since God is triune, this means that friendship and community existed before time, which means friendship holds a type of value that truly outlasts and supersedes the boundaries and toll of time; friendship is always timely, always timeless, and always desired. Furthermore, since God is triune, this means that the Great Commission is a community endeavor. Indeed, if God plans to accomplish his redemptive purposes for humanity through the community of himself, why should we ever think that our purposes for mission do not directly demand the involvement of the church community, too? Truly, because there are endless implications of such a divine truth, that means there are also equally endless applications for our lives in light of this doctrine, too.
The Trinity, indeed, foundationally influences the grid of our entire theological framework, as individual believers and as a corporate church. Without the pure doctrine of the Trinity, everything else in Christianity therefore exists without foundation as a structure that awaits its demise into the shambles of illogic and uselessness.