The Trinity is the term which defines that the one God of the Bible exists as a unity of three distinct persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. At first sight one might say that this is absurd, confusing, or flat out impossible. Some may also make the claim that Trinitarianism is the same as polytheism (many gods), but this is simply not the case. The Trinity is monotheistic (one god) by definition, so those who claim otherwise demonstrate an obvious lack of understanding what the word really describes.
I will be among the first to say that the Trinity is definitely a difficult topic to explain, but that does not warrant as evidence against its truth. The Bible is the self revelation of the infinite God, therefore we are bound to come across ideas and concepts that will be hard to understand, explain and perhaps even accept. In addition, I will go out on a limb and say that many Christians when offering up analogies and examples to help others understand the Trinity actually end up committing heresy in one or more ways. So I will take some time to go through it step by step and show how it actually is possible and how we can observe good examples of it in nature.
God is One
The Bible clearly teaches in numerous places that God is one. That there is none like him, that he is the first and the last, that there was none before him and will be none after Him. We can see this clearly and plainly laid out in the following verses:
Deuteronomy 4:35 “To you it was shown, that you might know that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.”
Deuteronomy 4:39 “The Lord is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.”
Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one,” which is verse Jesus Himself also quotes in Mark 12:29.
1 Kings 8:60 “All the peoples of the earth may know that the Lord is God; there is no other.”
Isaiah 43:10 “Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me.”
Isaiah 44:6 “I am the first and I am the last; besides me there is no god.”
Isaiah 44:8 “Is there a God besides me? There is no Rock (God see Isa 30:29); I know not any.”
Isaiah 45:5 “I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God.”
1 Corinthians 8:4 “There is no God but one.”
1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Do note that these are only a handful of references from the Bible that give mention to the clear conclusion that God is singular. We see citations from both the Old and New Testaments which show that both the Jews as well as the early Christians believed that there is no plurality of Gods, but one and only one.
An interesting note to make among these verses is that in Deuteronomy 6:4 where it is written that the Lord is one, the Hebrew word used for ‘;one’ is ‘;echad’;. This is the same word we see in Genesis 2:24 which says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” This verse is obviously talking about marriage between a man and a woman, and how in the union the two become one. Now it is as obvious that a husband and wife do not somehow melt together to become one being, but they are in fact two separate persons who are to be viewed as one unit.
God is Multiple
In the word of God, besides seeing God as a singular entity, we also interestingly see a number of verses mention a certain plurality in his character. These characters are known as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, which make up what we call ‘;The Trinity.’
For example, we see in Genesis 1:26 where “God said, ‘;Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” Notice where it says our image and our likeness. Who else was present to take part in the creation?
Look also at Genesis 11:7-8, which says “‘;Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.’ So the Lord dispersed them from there over the face of all the earth, and they left off building the city.” Notice it first says ‘;Let us go down’ but it then says that the Lord is the one who dispersed them.
In the New Testament, the three persons of the Trinity are simultaneously present at Jesus’ baptism in Luke 3:21-22, which says that “When Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘;You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.’”
We can also read the account of The Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17:1-14, Mark 9:2-13 and Luke 9:28-36. During this event both the Father and the Son are clearly and separately identified. The cloud that is mentioned in all three accounts could also be representing the presence of the Holy Spirit; which would bring the whole of the Trinity together, but even without the Holy Spirit’s presence, we clearly see the Father and the Son.
But one of the most unmistakable references to the Trinity comes from Jesus Christ Himself after his resurrection in Matthew 28:16-20, in which he says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
We see at the Baptism and Transfiguration that the Father called Jesus his son. But we even see Jesus Himself claiming to be God in John 8:57-59 where “the Jews said to him, ‘;you are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?’ Jesus said to them, ‘;Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’ So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.”
Why immediately after saying this statement did the Jews pick up stones to throw at Jesus? Because the Jews knew exactly what Jesus was saying when he used the words “I am.” This is the same title for God that was given to Moses in Exodus 3:14 where the Lord said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘;I am has sent me to you.’” ‘;I am’ is the name of God that Moses was to present to the Israelites back in Egypt. By quoting this reference, Jesus was explicitly saying that he was God in the flesh. The Jews who had spent their lives taking the scriptures to memory knew this and therefore accused Jesus of blasphemy, for which he was eventually crucified.
Notice also that Jesus claimed to be God, not one God out of many. He isn’t an additional deity to add to existing belief, but he is the one present at the creation of the universe (Jhn 1:1-3). Simply put he is the incarnation - the flesh and blood body - of the one God (Col 1:15). Jesus Himself preached that there is only one God in Mark 12:29 in which he quoted Deuteronomy 6:4 which says “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” Jesus is that God.
Examples of the Trinity
Skeptics to Trinitarianism will assert that this doctrine is illogical or impossible. As stated earlier, many Christians fail in responding to these claims by using faulty examples and explanations to make their belief sound plausible.
The chief examples that are used, while at face value sound good, tend to aim more towards the heresy of modalism, which is the belief that the Father can become the Son who can become the Holy Spirit who can become the Father. Some of these examples include:
- Matter - which contains the trinity of liquid, solid and gas.
- Space - which contains the trinity of height, width and depth.
- Time - which contains the trinity of future, present, and past.
The problem with all three of these examples is that they lean towards modalism. The perspective of an object can be changed to where the height becomes the width or the depth. A liquid can become a solid or a gas. In regards to time, the future inevitably becomes the present, which inevitably becomes the past. Therefore we can easily see that these are examples which the Christian community should abandon in trying to defend Trinitarianism.
However the entirety of these examples is not without some assistance since we can see that the universe is made up of a trinity of space, matter and time. Simply put, none can become or be mistaken for one of the others. While I believe the description of matter makes a decent example of a trinity, I think we can offer up a similarity that more accurately portrays what the Trinity can be compared to.
Trinitarianism states that God is one in three distinct persons. The problem, is that the word ‘;persons’ has a tendency to force people into the mode of imagining God like we would imagine three separate human beings, but that is just the thought process that we need to get out of when thinking of the Trinity. We use the word ‘;persons’ because it denotes the individuality and self-awareness of each member of the Godhead. This means that the Father is aware of being the Father, the Son is aware of being the Son, and the Holy Spirit is aware of being the Holy Spirit; but each is distinct and separate from the other two.
By describing the Trinity we can obviously see the uniqueness of God, which is partially why understanding the Trinity can indeed be very difficult. But I think it is because there is none like Him that I don’t believe it is possible to have an analogy that perfectly reflects his triune nature. However I do think we can describe an acceptable analogy.
The analogy I will describe relates to the real existence of multi-headed animals in nature. We can observe that on extremely rare occurrences reptiles such as turtles and snakes are born with not one, but two heads. Upon the finding of a two headed turtle for example, we should first of all notice that we call it a ‘two headed turtle’ automatically. We do not identify it as two separate turtles that are simultaneously overlapping, but a singular living object with two self-conscious individuals inhabiting the same body. To put it in human terms, it is one being occupied by two persons.
Continuing with this example in mind we can arrive at the plausibility of the Trinity; for just as we can observe a single reptile that is occupied by two characters, we can similarly conceive of a single spiritual entity (John 4:24) that is occupied by three persons. Each of these three is self aware of their own existence, cognizant of the other two, but contained in the same being.
Sometimes when trying to attack the Trinity, skeptics will appeal to mathematics. It will be said that the idea of a Trinitarian God results in polytheism because 1+1+1=3 (Father + Son + Holy Spirit = Gods). While the math in this analogy is true, the example however is false. A more accurate way of looking at it mathematically is to use the process of multiplication instead of addition, like 1x1x1=1 or 13 (Father x Son x Holy Spirit = God). We are not adding deities, but multiplying the persons therein.
In an effort to add emphasis to what is necessary, I must point out that even these explanations may contain flaws, but understand that they are just as they are titled… analogies. We do see multiples within one in nature as has been shown, so it is therefore illogical and unreasonable to say that it is impossible for God to be the same in regards to the Trinity.
- William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (Downer's Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity, 2003), 575-96
- Slick, Matt. “What is the Trinity." CARM. May, 2009