What Does the Bible Say About the Trinity?
While the Bible does not use the word “trinity,” the doctrine of the Trinity is built on three foundational biblical truths. As Nigerian pastor Femi Osunnuyi has put its “The Trinity is a shorthand way of expressing who God is from all eternity. He is one God existing as three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
1. There is One God
Throughout the Bible, there is a stark contrast between the monotheistic God of the Bible and the polytheistic religions of ancient culture. From Baal to the unknown God in Athens (Acts 17:23), polytheistic religion was normal in the cultures in which the Bible was written. The Scriptures, however, are clear about the distinctiveness of Israel’s God: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). Attempts to deny or minimize the unity of God are a departure from who God has revealed himself to be.
2. God Exists as Three Persons
The Bible also clearly teaches that there are distinct persons within the one God. For example, the Son is distinct from the Father. While they are both co-eternally God, the baptism of Jesus, among other passages, alerts us to the distinctions between the persons of the Trinity (Matthew 3:13–17). We hear the Father speak to the Son as the Spirit descends. It is clear from this text that these three are not simply manifestations but persons.
3. Each Person is Truly God
Finally, the Bible teaches that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each truly God. For example, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, Peter claimed that they had lied to God (Acts 5:3–4). And Jesus identified himself with the “I AM” who had appeared to Moses (John 8:58; Exodus 3:14). Likewise, John teaches us that the Word who became flesh existed eternally as God and was the One through whom God created the world (John 1:1–3).
How Can We Describe this Trinity?
We believe there is one God who eternally exists as three distinct persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, each of whom is truly God.
What Does The Bible Teach about Each Person?
The Father, Son, and Spirit relate to each other in a specific way. Though each person is involved in all that God does in creation and redemption, certain acts are typically associated with specific persons.1
Who is the Father?
Isaiah 64:8 refers to the Lord as “our Father,” who, as a potter, molds and shapes us. The Father is the creator (1 Corinthians 8:6), sovereign over us and all creation. As Christians, we believe that the Father is truly God.
Who is the Son?
Christ, the Son, took on flesh to dwell among us (John 1:14) Colossians 1:15–16 describes him as the “image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” the one by whom and from whom all things were created. As the one who died and rose again, he is the head of the church and the firstborn of the new creation. Jesus Christ is both truly man and truly God.
Who is the Holy Spirit?
John 15:26–27 describes the Spirit as the one sent from the Father and the Son, and he bears witness to the Son.. In addition, Gregg Allison notes, “From Genesis to Revelation, from creation to new creation, the Spirit of God is an active participant in the story of Scripture. He is life-giving, empowering, and transforming.” We believe that the Holy Spirit is truly God.
Dangers To Avoid When Studying the Trinity
It is also important to remind ourselves what the Bible does not teach us about the Triune God. Let’s consider three major Trinitarian heresies that have been condemned by the church.
Modalism condenses the three persons of the Godhead into one person. The persons are merely different manifestations or modes of God’s interaction with the world. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, teaches that the Triune God is eternally and truly three distinct persons.
A popular form of this view today is Oneness Pentecostalism, which has been spread by modern groups, such as the United Pentecostal Church International, and has over 3 million members in 212 nations and territories.
Tritheism teaches us that the persons of the Trinity are actually three distinct gods. This view succeeds in teaching that there is a distinction between each person of the Trinity, but fails to recognize the unity of the Triune God.
Subordinationism teaches us that one person of the Trinity is inferior to another. Adherents of this view may believe that the Spirit is an impersonal force, or that the Son is a created being. Subordinationism denies the deity of Christ or the Spirit.
This view succeeds in recognizing the distinction and unity of each person of the Trinity, yet fails to acknowledge the deity of each person of the Trinity. This view has been popularized by unorthodox groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses. (Unfortunately, this view is prevalent in Brazil where there are nearly a million Jehovah’s Witnesses.)
Why Does This Matter?
The Trinity is the very foundation of the Christian faith. As churches are planted across the globe, it is of utmost importance that the Triune God of the Bible is preached. ancient heresies continue to pose a threat to churches today, albeit in new forms. Pastors around the world must be prepared to proclaim the biblical gospel, which includes a biblical understanding of God.
While the Bible does not answer every possible question we may have about the Trinity, its teachings are clear:
- There is one God. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
- He exists as three persons. (Matthew 3:13–17)
- Each person is truly God. (John 8:58, Acts 5:3–4)
- The persons of the Trinity are most properly distinguished by their relations of origin. The Father begets, the Son is begotten, and the Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son. And while each person is often associated with certain acts in creation and redemption, all outward acts of God come from the Father through the Son in the Spirit (as per the doctrine of indivisible operations).
- See Scott Swain, The Trinity: An Introduction, 82–83.