Explaining the Trinity

The Trinity is not a mere doctrine, but who God eternally is. God is the Trinity. We love and worship the Trinity. The Trinity is not something God has, but who God is. My definition of the Trinity is a modified version of the one given in James R. White’s book The Forgotten Trinity: The one true God exists eternally as three coequal and coeternal persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit who share equally and indivisibly the one divine nature or attributes of God and are distinguished by various personal properties.

The three pillars of God as a Trinity of persons are: 1. Monotheism: there is only one God and object of worship who is simple or indivisible; 2. Distinction: the one true God eternally exists as three distinct persons with distinct personal properties; 3. Equality: the three persons of the Trinity share equally the one divine nature or attributes of God so that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. But the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit and the Son is not the Father or the Holy Spirit. To prove the doctrine of the Trinity, we must demonstrate that there is only one God, prove that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct from each other (but not separated from one another), and prove that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God.

Monotheism is the belief that there is only one God. The word is derived from the Greek words monos “only” and theos “God.” The opposite of monotheism is polytheism or the belief that there are many gods. This one God is the creator of all things and is distinct from creation. Because there is only one God, he must be the sole object of our worship. Because God is simple or indivisible, the three persons of the Trinity are not “parts” of God, but three distinct persons who cannot be separated from one another. Christian monotheism is trinitarian rather than unitarian.

Trinitarians affirm that Jesus is God. He is the eternal Son of God who existed with the Father from all eternity and became human in the incarnation while remaining fully God. He is both fully God and fully man at the same time in one person. Jesus is not a lesser god or a created being, but the creator of all things and deserving of worship, honor, and prayer. He is equal in nature, being, attributes, and person to the Father. He came to live and die among us, “that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23). Only one who is fully God could satisfy the infinite justice of God on our behalf. Only a sacrifice of infinite worth could satisfy infinite wrath which results in eternal punishment. And only one who is fully man could die on our behalf since it was a man who sinned against God. Because we have the righteousness of Christ in justification, we have the righteousness of God (1 Cor 1:30; 2 Cor 5:21).

The Holy Spirit is God equal with the Father and the Son. He is the one through whom the Father and the Son carry out their work in the world. He is personal in nature rather than an impersonal force. He speaks, teaches, knows all things, can be sinned against and lied to, can be grieved, bears witness, creates assurance, brings regeneration, intercedes for, glorifies Christ, loves, and created all things. I have written about the deity and personality of the Holy Spirit in previous articles.

In contrast to trinitarianism are polytheism (many gods), modalism (the Father becomes the Son and then becomes the Holy Spirit), Arianism (the Son is not God), and binitarianism (the Holy Spirit is not God while the Son is). All human analogies fail when attempting to describe the Trinity. The analogy of ice turning into water and then into air is modalism, not trinitarianism. The analogy of a human father being both a father and the son of someone else is also modalism. Using a pretzel to depict the three persons of the Trinity is simply dishonoring to who God is. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinct persons, not holes in a piece of bread. Many evangelicals have a view of God that is functionally modalistic rather than trinitarian. I have never met a member of a church who was a polytheist or an Arian, but I have encountered more than one person who had a modalistic understanding of God.

For a helpful article on the Trinity, see this article by Matt Perman.

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10 thoughts on “Explaining the Trinity

  1. I have been studying the Trinity lately, and I have not found an explanation for what seem like two obvious contradictions.
    1) John 17:3, 1 Cor 8:6, Eph 4:6, and 1 Tim 2:5 all seem to indicate that the one true God is the Father alone.
    2) Jesus refers to the Father as “my God and your God” right after the resurrection and again in Rev 2.
    Do you have any thoughts on this?

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  2. The Bible uses the term God to describe the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. See the book “Jesus as God” by Murray J. Harris. If you want a list of verses, just google “the deity of Christ.”

    Jesus refers to the Father as “my God” because he is not a modalist. He is a distinct person from God the Father. Jesus refers to the Father as “my God” because he always does the will of the Father, obeys him, prays to him, and serves him perfectly. As a man, he sinlessly did everything that we are required to do that his perfect righteousness might become ours.

    https://www.tms.edu/blog/11-reasons-affirm-deity-christ/

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    1. Wow, what a fast response. I really appreciate the response. I have been taught the Trinity since I was very young (became a Christian when I was 5) and am now in my late 50’s. Just in my reading recently I noticed this verses and began my study, reading through the N.T. 3 times to get context. I noticed your article on Logos Christology and then this one. So, I thought I would get your thoughts. I am not asking these question lightly.

      Let me be then more specific and detailed.

      1 Cor 8:6 specifically addresses the one God as the Father: “yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” ESV.

      Eph 4:6 states “One God and Father of all”
      “one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” ESV
      ‭‭
      I have not seen any Trinity arguments that address the passages specifically

      Regarding the N.T. referring to the each the Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit directly as God. Most all of the Epistles begin with some type of statement referring to God as the Father and Jesus as Lord setting the precedent in than epistle for who God is and who the Lord is.

      Chapter 4 of Revelation indicates that the Lord God Almighty is the one who sits on the throne with the 7 spirits of God as troches below, the Lamb is introduced in the next chapter as separate entity throughout the rest of the book.

      There are a few passage that refer to Jesus as God, but these could be taken in the context of the Hebrew usage of Elohim referring more to a representative of God or judge (e.g. Heb1:8 referring to Ps 45) this is actually translated as judge in a Jewish bible. But that is really another discussion along with Phil 2, etc.

      I hope you don’t mind this discussion. I have been talking with few close friends about this and looking for someone knowledgeable to get input from.

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      1. Paul refers to the Father as God and the Son as Lord because that is the normal way he distinguishes between the two. In 1 Corinthians 8:6, if the Son is not God because Paul does not here use the term in reference to him, then that would mean the Father is not Lord. The background of 1 Corinthians 8:6 is Deuteronomy 6:4 where “God” and “Lord” both describe the one God of Israel. To say that Jesus is the one Lord is to say that he is Yahweh.

        https://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/15731/was-paul-identifying-the-lord-jesus-in-1-corinthians-86-as-the-%CE%B5%E1%BC%B7%CF%82-%CE%BA%CF%8D%CF%81%CE%B9%CE%BF%CF%82-of-de

        See Romans 10:9-13 where Paul applies the term Yahweh to Jesus in Romans 10:13 by quoting from Joel 2:32 and applying it to Jesus as Lord. LORD in all capital letters in the Old Testament is the translator’s way of translating the Hebrew word Yahweh. Confessing Jesus as Yahweh is essential to salvation. Paul does refer to Jesus as God in Romans 9:5 and Titus 2:13. Jesus is called the true God in 1 John 5:20.

        In Revelation, the Lamb receives the same exact worship that God the Father receives in Revelation 5:12-14. Compare Revelation 5:12-14 with Revelation 4:10-11. The Son is a distinct person from the Father but not a distinct being (Heb 1:2-3).

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      2. Well, I spent the day thinking about the response. Something just did not seem totally right the with links explanation (as Lord >which may be better translated “Master”, does necessary not as equal God, and two scripture verse seemed to unrelated), Then, going though the 700+ instance of the use of “Lord” in the N.T. I was reminded of Rom 10:9-10 as you mention above. These two verses in Romans tie more directly to one God, one Lord and provide better parallel to use of the words (being the same author).

        If I might paraphrase:

        1 Cor 8:6 “yet for us there is one God, the Father (one God who raised Jesus from the Dead, the Father), from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ (the only one whose Lordship matters, who you must confess Jesus as Lord as essential for salvation), through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” ESV.

        Including for reference as to who actually raised Jesus from the dead:Gal 1:1 “Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead”

        Thanks for the additional verses. These were verses I have already reviewed. The following are thoughts on those.

        Regarding reference to Romans 9:5. If you relate this to John 3:16-17, seem to more relates to God who gave/sent “his son”. Thus, more implying that is was from the love of the Father, not that Jesus did not love us too. This verse could then be taken either way as to it’s relation to who’s love is being referred to here.

        Regarding reference to Titus 2:13. This could be very easily argued this could be translated “great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ” as both will eventually appear. So, this seems like it could go either way.

        Regarding 1 John 20: If you relate this to John 17:3 “and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God and Jesus whom you have sent”.

        With Regard to Revelation 4 & 5. The is a difference in the content of the worship in Rev 4 and Rev 5. Revelation 4 states “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty”.

        With regarding to the argument that receiving worship proves Jesus is God, seems out of context of the intent of the original command not worship other things as gods. The word for worship in Hebrew and Greek can simply mean homage or high respect. There are numerous instances of “worship” in the Old and New Testament that was not intended to be worship as a God substitute or as God but simple respect. Regarding worship of Jesus, Phil 2:10-11 gives a good example and states that the end result will be to the glory of God the Father.

        Any model of the Trinity I have heard so far, seems always hard to explain. Wonder if God really intended that? A Muslim family was in my home a few weeks ago asking questions about Jesus and God. Mostly with questions about how the doctrine of the Trinity just does not make sense. Would there ever be conflicts between two of the God? For this I simply stuck with clear scripture that states that Jesus is “Son of (the) God”, and that Jesus’s express purpose on earth was to do the will of the Father and become a mediator between the Father and man. He has not heard this explanation in this way before and was more satisfied with the answer.

        I really wonder if the man derived doctrine (theory) has not cause more harm than good. My true intent is to find what is unquestionably true by reading God’s work without bias to predetermined doctrine.

        I have learned over the years that if we go beyond what God clearly states in scripture, we can easily get into trouble with over/mis-interpretation.

        Thank you very much for your responses. If you would like to continue this discussion more privately (via email) I could probably contact you through your church. I certainly don’t want to get into any type of what might seem like an agreement. I certainly would not mind doing so, I have more thoughts I would love to share. However, If you feel like this discussion could benefit others, I can continue. It’s your blog, not mine.

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  3. My email is jamesattebury@gmail.com and I would be happy to send you more information through that if you promise to read it. There are serious problems with all of your replies to the verses I cited. To give just one example, Titus 2:13 cannot be translated “great God, and our Savior Jesus Christ” because of something called Granville Sharp’s rule. Another example of this rule where the deity of Christ is even clearer is 2 Peter 1:1 when compared to 2 Peter 1:11 since both verses have the identical construction in Greek except that 1:1 has “God” while 1:11 has “Lord.” This is why cults like the Jehovah’s Witnesses must distort the text of the Bible to maintain their views such as when they mistranslate John 8:58 as “I have been” instead of “I am” obscuring the reference to Exodus 3:14.

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