Questions on the Trinity

Matthew 28:19

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
April 2015

 Last week, we had a question about the doctrine of the Trinity in our class.  I wanted to spend a week talking about this doctrine. There are many groups which hate the doctrine of the Trinity (e.g., Jews, Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses). What exactly does the doctrine of the Trinity teach?

Is it really a biblical doctrine or is it a man-made doctrine?  What are some misconceptions that people have about the Trinity?  Some pastors have gotten it wrong when it comes to the Trinity.  I will give you some examples of that.  Can you be a Christian and not believe in the Trinity?

1. Is the doctrine of the Trinity important?

The answer is yes.  This doctrine is important.  Why is it important?  The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the major doctrines of the Bible. Some doctrines of the Bible are minor or non-essential, like how do we interpret the Book of Revelation?

Christians can have different views on Revelation, as long as we all agree in the Second Coming. Prophecy is a minor doctrine in which not all believers agree. Baptists and Methodists are split on some doctrines. They are minor doctrines.  Some doctrines are major doctrines. The doctrine of the Trinity is one of them.

How do we know that this is a major doctrine?  What makes it an essential doctrine?  Several things make this an essential doctrine.  First, the doctrine is very old. This is not something that some people invented in 1850.  It is something that Christians have believed for two thousand years.  Second, it is a doctrine that is believed by all branches of the Christian church (Protestant, Catholic and Greek Orthodox).

Third, this doctrine is about God. It deals with who God is. You can be off on many things (like when the rapture starts, who the Antichrist, who the Nephilim are) and still be saved is but not on who God is. If you worship the wrong god, you cannot be saved, no matter how sincere you are.

Many say they believe in God. What God? To believe in God is not the same thing as believing in the Christian God. The Muslims believe in God. They call God Allah which is just the Arabic word for God.  It is used in Arabic Bibles in the OT and NT for “God.”  Both Muslims and Christians worship one God.  They are both monotheists but the god they worship is very different from the Christian God.

There are ninety-nine names of God in the Koran (Restrainer, Extender, Humbler, Exalter, Creator, Just, Judge, Mighty, Strong, King, Infinite, Glorious, Avenger, Guide, Everlasting, etc.)  Almost all of the names of God are impersonal.  The name “Father” is not one of them.

Muslims do not speak of God as their heavenly Father.   The God of the Bible is loving and personal.  He wants a relationship with people.  In fact, the Bible does not just teach that God is loving, it teaches that “God IS love.”  It teaches that God loves the world.  The God of the Koran does NOT love sinners.

In the Bible, God is a perfect being. In the Quran, Allah deceives people. In fact, in the Koran it says that “the best of schemers is Allah” (Surah 3:54; 8:30).  He is the best of deceivers. He is dishonest. He is the author of evil. The God of the Bible is perfect.  He cannot sin. He cannot lie.

The God of the Bible has a son.  Jesus is called “the Son of God”.  Of course, He is not a literal son. God is a spirit (John 4:24). He has no body.  God does not have a wife.  Muslims teach that God has no son.  They teach that Allah has no son.

They have a completely different view of God.  Islam is a religion in which God requires you to send your son to die for him. Christianity is a faith in which God sent his Son to die for you.  Just because you say you believe in God does not necessarily mean that you believe in the Christian God.

2. What does the doctrine of the Trinity teach?

It teaches that there is one God who exists in three persons (God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit).  It does NOT teach that God is one person and it does NOT teach that there are three gods.  It teaches one God in three persons.  Why is this important?  This is where some people have gotten it wrong in church history.

There was an early heresy in the early church that taught God is one person (one God, one person in the Godhead) and he manifests himself in different forms or modes. They believe that God is one person who takes on three modes or roles, just as one person can be a husband, a son and a father all at the same time.

Some churches still believe this today. Oneness Pentecostals hold this view. The United Pentecostal Church (UPC) rejects the doctrine of the Trinity. They are known as modalists. Modalists believe that God is one person who manifests himself as Father, Son or Holy Spirit. They believe that Jesus IS the Father.

3. Is Jesus the Father?

One verse used to teach that Jesus is the Father is John 14:9 (“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father”). When you see Jesus, you see the Father, so Jesus must be the Father. Is this correct? All you have to do is to look at the context of John 14 to see what is wrong with this view.

  • John 14:6 says: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. How can Jesus say that no one comes TO the Father except through Him, if he is the Father?
  • John 14:12 says: ”Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me?” The Father is NOT Jesus. He is IN Jesus. Jesus is IN the Father. That refutes the idea that they are the same person.
  • John 14:11 says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father”. How can Jesus be the Father if he goes to the Father?
  • John 14:20 says, “On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you”. Jesus is in us and we are in him (14:20) but that does not mean that we are all Jesus. We are not the same person.
  • John 14:23 says, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and WE will come to them and make OUR home with them.” The plural pronouns imply that there are two people.
  • John 14:28 says, “The Father is greater than I.” If Jesus is the Father, then how could the Father be greater than Jesus?

Another verse used to teach that Jesus is the Father is John 10:30.  Jesus said, “I and the Father are one.“ Doesn’t this prove that they must be the same person? The answer is no. This is clear for two reasons.

One, the verb is plural (“are”).  Jesus does NOT say that He “is” the Father, only that He and the Father “are” one. If Jesus is the Father, He would have used the singular verb. He would have said, “I AM the Father”. Instead, he used the plural verb. “I and the Father ARE one.” The third century church Father Hippoytus said that the plural verb was used, because it is talking about two people, not one person.

Two, the adjective (“one”) is neuter in Greek.  The statement “I and the Father are one’ does not mean that Jesus and the Father were the same person. Had John wanted to say that, he would have used the masculine word for “one.” Instead, he uses the neuter word for “one”. It means one thing, not one person.

4. Is Jesus the Spirit?

I have heard some preachers say that Jesus is the Spirit.  One verse used to support that is II Corinthians 3:17 which says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”

It says it very clearly that the Lord IS the Spirit.  The Spirit is clearly the Holy Spirit and the Lord in the context is Jesus, so this says that Jesus is the Holy Spirit.  It seems to say that they are synonymous.  They are one and the same.  There is only one problem.

The second half of the verse distinguishes the two. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”  They are not the same person.  In many passages Paul distinguishes between Jesus and the Spirit.  II Corinthians 13:14 says, “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

Ephesians 4 mentions seven things that unite all believers.   He tells us to “be eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:3-6).

These things are distinct and different.  Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). Hence, Jesus could not be the Spirit since Jesus was sending the Spirit or praying for the Father to send the Spirit.

5. Is the Trinity a pagan doctrine?

Now we know what the Trinity teaches, we have to ask if it is actually a pagan doctrine.  Is this doctrine pagan in origin?  Many believe it is an old Babylonian and Egyptian doctrine.

It goes back to ancient Babylon where all false religion began. The Babylonians worshiped the Father Nimrod, the Wife Semiramis and the Son Tammuz. The ancient Egyptians worshiped a female goddess named Isis, her husband named Osiris and their son Horus. It is a pagan doctrine

They argue that many pagan religions had the concept of a Trinity. Is the Trinity a pagan doctrine? No. The ancient Babylonians and the ancient Egyptians did not believe in one God. They were polytheists. They believed in many gods and worshiped many gods. They did not believe in the Trinity.

They worshiped many gods, not one God in three persons. These are NOT trinities. They are triads. A triad is not the same thing as the Trinity. Trinitarians do not believe in three gods. They believe in one God who exists in three persons. The Trinity is a uniquely Christian doctrine.

6. Is the doctrine of the Trinity illogical?

Critics ask, “How do you do that when it is not it does not even make any sense?”  They claim that the doctrine of the Trinity makes absolutely no sense. It is a mathematical absurdity. One plus one plus one does not equal one. It is completely illogical. How can one God be three persons? How would you respond to this objection?

  • The doctrine of the Trinity is hard to understand.

It is a mystery. It came about by special revelation. It is complex because it is about God. God is a complex being. He is an infinite being. We cannot even fully grasp how God can be eternal and have no beginning and no end.

If we could completely explain God and put him on our level, he would not be God. God says in the OT that there is no one like him and no one to compare him to (Isaiah 40:18; 46:5).  Most of the analogies of the trinity (e.g. water, clover leaf, egg) are not analogous.

You do not have to completely understand something to believe in it. There are many things I do not understand but I believe it. There are many things that we cannot explain (e.g.., how electricity works or how a plane flies) that we accept as true.

  • The doctrine of the Trinity does not violate any law of logic.

The Trinity teaches that God is both one and three but that does not violate the law of non-contradiction. It would be logically impossible to say that God is both one person and three persons at the same time.

It would be logically impossible to say that that there are three Gods and One God at the same time. There is a difference between something being hard to understand and something being completely illogical.  The Trinity is not contrary to reason, just above reason.  It transcends reason.

7. Is the doctrine of the Trinity biblical?

Many religious groups do not believe in the doctrine of the Trinity is a biblical teaching. The word “trinity” is not in the Bible.  It is not in the OT and it is not in the NT. Tertullian was the first to apply the term to the relationship of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and that did not take place until the early third century. The word “trinity” does not come from a Greek or Hebrew term. It comes from a Latin word (trinitas).

Are the critics right?  There is a difference between something being a biblical term and something being a biblical teaching. Many terms that are not in the Bible are biblical concepts.

  • The word “Bible” is not a biblical term but we believe in the Bible.
  • The word “inerrancy” is not in the Bible but we believe that the Bible is inerrant. It is without error.
  • The word “rapture” is not a biblical term but Paul clearly teaches the concept of a rapture or certain people caught up in the clouds to be with Jesus (I Thessalonians 4:17).
  • The phrase “unpardonable sin” is not a biblical term but Jesus taught that “every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven” (Matthew 12:31).
  • The Great Commission is not a biblical term but is a clear biblical teaching in Matthew 28:18-19.
  • The Second Coming is not a biblical term. The NT simply uses Greek words which mean “coming” like παρουσία but it is perfectly appropriate to call Jesus’ return “the Second Coming”.
  • Many of the attributes of God are not biblical terms (omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immutable) but are clearly taught in Scripture.

Nowhere does the Bible say, “God is one in essence and three in persons”. How do we arrive at that conclusion from Scripture, if the term is not used in the Bible? It is a logical deduction. The Bible does teach the doctrine by implication.

We can infer that God is a Trinity from other things that the Scripture says. We arrive at this doctrine a little differently than some other doctrines which are explicitly stated in Scripture (Heaven, Hell, Angels). How does is the doctrine of the trinity a clear inference of Scripture? The Bible teaches three very clear doctrines.

Biblical Basis for the Trinity

1) The Bible teaches that there is one God

(Cf. Isaiah 43:10; 44:6; 45:5-6, 18, 21-22; 46:9), The Bible teaches that there is one God, not two or three. Many think that if you believe in the trinity that you believe in three gods. That is simply not true. Trinitarians believe in one God, not three gods. Christians are not polytheists. They are monotheists. They believe in one God.

2) The Bible teaches that the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are all called God and have divine attributes.

All three are called YHWH. They are all called God without any hint of blasphemy. Jesus is called God eight or nine times in the NT (John 1:1, 18; 20:28; I John 5:20; Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8; Titus 2:13; Acts 20:28; II Peter 1:1).

The Holy Spirit is described in Scripture as a person, not a force. The Holy Spirit gives orders that can be obeyed (Acts 8:26; 13:2). He has a sovereign will (I Corinthians 12:4, 7-8, 11). He can be grieved (Ephesians 4:30) and blasphemed (Mark 3:29). He is also God. Lying to the Holy Spirit is equated with lying to God in Acts 5.

The Holy Spirit also has many of the same attributes as God – holy (Romans 1:4), eternal (Hebrews 9:14), omnipresent (Psalm 139:7), omniscient (I Corinthians 2:10, 11). Our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit (I Corinthians 6:19-20). In II Corinthians 3:17-18 Paul writes that “the Lord is the Spirit”. NT writers quote passages written by God in the OT and attribute them to the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25-27).

3) The Bible teaches that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are all distinct persons.

They are all clearly distinguished in Scripture. The Father is not the Son and the Son is not the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is not the Father. They are also distinguished at the baptism of Jesus in Mark 1:9-11. There we have Jesus on earth in the water getting baptized, a voice from heaven speaking saying, “You are my Son, whom I love” and the Holy Spirit descending like a dove all at the same time.

They are also distinguished at the Great Commission. Jesus told the disciples 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” (Matthew 28:19). The Father, Son and Spirit are clearly distinguished. Jesus did not say in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit but in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. The articles shows separate persons and yet still a unity of one name, not three.

Deuteronomy 6:4 and the Trinity

Jews often use Deuteronomy 6:4 as a proof-text against the Trinity. Deuteronomy 6:4 is called “the Shema”. The Shema is the most sacred confession of the Jewish people. In Hebrew it is Sh’ma Yis’ra’eil Adonai Eloheinu Adonai echad. Jews use the Shema to disprove the Trinity. Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”.

What does that passage mean? It means that there is one God and only one God. This does not contradict the Trinity at all because Trinitarians are monotheistic. They believe that there is only one God. That is part of the doctrine of the Trinity (one God in three persons).

Some will object the passage says that God is one, not three or three-in-one. The verse does not say that God is not three. It does not deal with the nature of God. It simply answers the question, Are there other gods or lords that we should worship? It just says that there is one God. It does not preclude the doctrine of the Trinity. There can be both a plurality and unity in the Godhead.

The word for “one” used in Deuteronomy 6:4 is echad. It occurs over 960 times. It is used in many different ways but it can be used of a compound or a composite oneness. It does not always mean this but it can mean this. There is another Hebrew word which has no plurality in it (yahid). It is used in the Bible of having only one and only son.

It is used in Genesis 2:24 of a husband and wife (“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”). It is used in Exodus 24:3 of a whole group of people saying the same thing (all the people answered with one voice, and said, “All the words which the LORD has spoken we will do!”).

There are hints even in the OT of this plurality. At creation, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26).

After Adam and Eve sinned, God said, “And the LORD God said, “The man has now become like one of US, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:22). After the Tower of Babel, God said, “Come, let US go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other.” (Genesis 11:7).

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