By Zoe Reinecke, Class of ’21
Christians and non-Christians alike struggle with the Trinity because they do not fully understand its theological foundation. In today’s political and religious climate of non-tolerance towards Christianity, being able to explain the Trinity is absolutely imperative. Since the word Trinity is not found in the Bible many are hesitant to believe that it is a fundamental part of Christian theology; however, the concept of the Trinity undeniably runs through both the Old Testament, or Hebrew Bible, and the New Testament. Unfortunately, many Christians have learned about the Trinity but lack the in-depth knowledge to have confidence in this theological principle. The apostle Peter addresses the importance of being able to defend Christianity when he explains, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15). As Christians we have a responsibility to understand the complexities of the Trinity, so what is the correct understanding of Trinity?
What is the Trinity?
Delving into the phenomenon of the one and many will provide deeper insight into the Trinitarian doctrine. This phenomenon establishes that everything on the universe is united by one thing, God; however, throughout history many have grappled, argued, and proposed what this one unifying factor is. Breaking up the word Trinity provides insight into what the Trinitarian doctrine is and how it relates to the phenomenon of the one and many. Tri means three and unity means unity. In this phenomenon, one implies unity and many implies diversity; therefore, tri relates to the concept of diversity while being unified. This connection demonstrates that the Trinity is one being in three divine and distinct persons unified by one uncompounded and indivisible essence. Athanasian Creed’s definition of the Trinity states, “We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons: nor dividing the Substance.” God is absolutely and eternally one substance subsisting in three distinct and ordered persons with division and with replication of the essence. If the essence were divided among the three persons, none would be divine (partialism) or if the essence were replicated in 3 persons, that would result in 3 gods (tritheism). There are so many ways to get the Trinity wrong, thus fully grasping these nuances is imperative in order to avoid heresy. There is diversity in the divine persons but they are all unified by one God, and thus the phenomenon of the one and many is answered.
Within the Trinity there are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit all unified by the same being, God. Many visualize this concept as a triangle with the three divine beings as points on the triangle and God being at the very center. That being said, the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. Alternatively, the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. All three persons in the Trinity are coequal to each other and each of them possess the entire undivided essence of God, and are thus equally God. Human minds cannot fully grasp the concept that three divine persons are unified by one being because God’s nature is beyond our complete understanding; therefore, believers are required to have faith based on how the Triune God is revealed through Scripture. Skeptics use this as an opportunity to debunk Christianity, but God did not design or intend for everything to be controlled and understood by humans because He is the creator and sustainer of everything, including human beings. Additionally, the Trinity is a mystery in the biblical sense that it is a truth that was hidden until revealed (hinted in the Old Testament, Gen. 1:26 “us”, Isaiah 6:8; Malachi 2:15-16; 3:1-2) but the New Testament clearly presents the doctrine of Trinity. The Magnum Opus of Trinitarianism is seen in Ephesians 1:3-14; God the Father (Eph 1:3-6, 1 Pet 4:19); God the Son is distinguished as the Redeemer and Mediator (Rom 3:24; Eph 1:7-12; 1 Tim 2:5) and God the Holy Spirit is the agent of sanctification (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; Eph 1:13-14). But in all these works, all three persons work inseparably together explained when Jesus states, “Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you are not just my own. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work” (John 14:10).
There is One God
Understanding that there is only one God is essential for Christians to fully grasp the Trinitarian Doctrine. First Timothy 2:5-6 states, “For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people.” Humanity received the blessing of Christ Jesus who died on the cross for mankind’s sins. First Corinthians 8:6 discusses the truth that, “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” Instead, notice that the Father and the Son are diverse persons united by one God. In Matthew 28:19, Matthew discusses the Greatest Commission and instructs Christians to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Ultimately, one must grasp the concept that there is one God uniting all three divine persons who are diverse in their respective roles.
Christians must understand that each person of the Trinity has diverse roles. One of the most popular Bible verses provides insight into these different roles. John 3:16 explains, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” Ultimately, God the Father is seated in heaven and sent his Son to save mankind from sin leading to eternal death. Jesus’ death and resurrection has provided believers an opportunity to eternal life in heaven. As a human, Christ the Son had the important role of making disciples, establishing the Church, and Christianity. Jesus becoming man and enduring the hardships that life as a human entails allows mankind to have a deeper and more intimate relationship with God. Lastly, the Holy Spirit is how man interacts with God. In John 14:16-17 Jesus says, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But he knows him, for he lives with you and will be in you.” When a believer is baptized, the Holy Spirit enters them and gives the power to interpret spiritual truths to the believer, intercede on the believer’s behalf, enable salvation, sanctification, etc. (Acts 1:6-8, John 14:25-27). Thus, God the Father is in Heaven and sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become and live as man and now the Holy Spirit lives in and leads believers. As discussed, each person has incredibly diverse roles, but all are equally and fully God.
Each Person in the Trinity is Divine
Each being in the Trinity is divine, which further corroborates the claim that there is one God and that the divine persons are one being united by one essence. Christ the Son was birthed by the virgin Mary, which by scientific terms and logic is completely impossible, indicating that the impossible birth of Christ was made possible only through God. Since God the Father made this possible, one can conclude that He is also divine. Lastly, throughout Acts and after Jesus leaves the earth, miracles were still and still are being performed through the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in believers. Claims of these divine powers were recorded as historical fact in the Bible and were performed in front of a great number of people, none of whom denied the occurrence of the miracles (Matthew 8:1-15, 9:1-8, 9:23-26, 14:13-33). That being said, each person in the Trinity is divine, further establishing the concept that there is one God that unites each divine person.
How Does Understanding the Trinity Change One’s Relationship with God?
A high and accurate understanding of the Trinity leads to a transformation in the way believers worship, pray, fellowship, disciple, adoration, and live out their faith. By grasping the significance of the Trinity, Christians are able to understand that God loves his people so much that he is present in three different persons to engage with man. This doctrine also points towards God’s self-sufficiency because when you have a triune God, you have the eternality of love. Love has existed from the beginning of all time. If you have a god who isn’t three persons, he has to create a being to love, to be an expression of his love. But Father, Son, and Holy Spirit existing in eternity have always had this relationship of love. God didn’t have to go outside of himself to love. Love is eternal. God is an eternally loving God. Because of God’s eternal unconditional love believers can have confidence in their faith and surrender to Christ, giving one even more reason to present their lives as a living sacrifice to Him. God closed the chasm between Him and man by being present in three different beings. As believers, the confidence we can have in who God is allows us to give our lives as a living sacrifice to Him. The Trinitarian Doctrine completely changes how believers conduct their everyday life. No longer is God a distant being but instead He is an almighty counselor, savior, mediator, father, and friend who provides unconditional love to His children.
The Father is God.
The Son is God.
The Holy Spirit is God.
The Father is not the Son.
The Father is not the Holy Spirit.
The Son is not the Holy Spirit.
If man believes that the Trinity is not real purely because the word Trinity is never used in the Bible, then that person lacks the ability to recognize that the concept runs through the Bible. It is not about the word, it is about the concept and the concept reveals a God of love.