The Triune God
The doctrine of the Trinity is not something which men would readily have invented by themselves. Coalitions of individual ‘gods’ can be found in some heathen religions; and Jehovah’s Witnesses in particular have attempted to identify these with the Trinity: but the similarity amounts to no more than an occasional numerical coincidence.
What makes this doctrine unique is its insistence that whilst there is only ONE God, that God is comprised of THREE distinct persons. To our minds that is a contradiction; but before trying to explain it, let us see how Scripture forces us to this conclusion.
- Nb. This study is hypertext-linked to the Bible Gateway. By clicking on the references, you will initially be shown the passage in the New King James Version, with an option to switch to any of a wide range of different languages and translations. You can also browse the surrounding chapters or look for other references if you wish.
1. ONE GOD
‘Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one: …’ Deut. 6 v4.
‘Before me no God was formed, nor will there be one after me.’ Isaiah 43 v10.
‘I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.’ Isaiah 44 v6.
‘Is there any God besides me? No, there is no other Rock; I know not one. ‘Isaiah 44 v8.
- (This verse is particularly useful with Mormons, who claim that there are Gods who rule over other worlds. This would make God a liar, since he could not be unaware of their existence!)
‘We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), 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. ‘1 Cor. 8 v4-6.
2. THREE PERSONS
A person is characterised by having a mind, will and emotions of their own; though that should not be confused with self-will: the more people love each other, the more concerned they are with the other’s thoughts, wishes and feelings.
2.1 The Father
It is scarcely necessary to prove who the Father is. That he is God is clearly stated in the last verse cited. Jesus consistently referred to God as the Father: ‘Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, ..’ (Mt. 6 v9), ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ (Jn. 20 v17). Scripture is full of references revealing the Father not as an abstract force, but as a wise, powerful and feeling person.
2.2 The Son
There can be no room for doubting that Jesus is a person with a mind, will and feelings of his own. Even though he always did the Father’s will (Jn. 6 v38, 8 v29) it was a case of ‘not my will, but yours be done’ (Lk. 21 v42).
Many, however, have failed to recognise that he is also God. The Jews were so hot on the fact that there is only one God that for any other person to claim to be God or God’s Son (which amounted to the same thing – see Jn 5 v18) was instantly taken as blasphemy.
Nevertheless, though Jesus generally avoided confrontation on this issue and used the title ‘Son of Man’ (Mt. 16 v13-20), he did indeed make such claims.
He acknowledged Peter’s description as ‘Son of God’ in Mt. 16 v16 and that of the Pharisees in Mt. 26 v63-4. More clearly still, he used the Divine name revealed to Moses (Ex. 3 v14) in his statement ‘I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I am!’ and was almost stoned on the spot (Jn. 8 v59). Twice before in that conversation (Jn. 8 v24 & 28) he had used the same title (though in a more veiled fashion which does not come out clearly in the translation), and the Jews had pounced on its very first use: so there could be no misunderstanding Jesus’ meaning. Although it took Peter and the other disciples some time to recognise Jesus as God, there is no doubt that they did.
John begins his gospel with the statement, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God,’ and then goes on to say, ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ (Jn. 1 v1 & 14).
- (Jehovah’s Witness’ claims that this should be ‘a god’ because the original Greek doesn’t say ‘the God’ are unfounded. ‘God’ is used five other times in the first 18 verses and only one says ‘the God’. Also, the form of words used in the Greek not only makes it necessary for ‘the’ to be left out: it actually emphasises the Word ‘God’ by putting it first.)
Thomas confessed Jesus as ‘My Lord and my God!’ (Jn. 20 v28)
- (This is a particulary useful verse for J.W’s, since the literal rendering is ‘The Lord of me and the God of me!’ and Jesus, far from correcting Thomas, confirms it by saying ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed.’)
Paul states ‘He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For by him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy. For God was pleased to have all his fulness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, ..’ (Col. 1 v15-20)
The author of Hebrews writes that God ‘has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.’ (Heb. 1 v2-3) He then states that in Psalm 45 v6-7 it is the Father himself who says of Jesus: ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of your kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions’ (Heb. 1 v8-9)
Isaiah says ‘he will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’ (Is. 9 v6)
Jesus deliberately used the Divine name ‘I am.’ Isaiah 43 v10 says ‘I am the first and the last; apart from me there is no God’: yet Jesus in Revelation 1 v17, 2 v8 and 22 v13 says ‘I am the First and the Last’.
2.3 The Holy Spirit
Few would dispute the Divinity of the Holy Spirit. He is variously described as ‘the Spirit of God’ (Rom. 8 v9), ‘the Holy Spirit of God’ (Eph. 4 v30), ‘the Spirit of glory and of God’ (1 Pet. 4 v14), ‘the Spirit of the Lord’ (2 Cor. 3 v17), ‘the Spirit of the Lord God’ (Is. 61 v1), ‘the Spirit of Christ’ (Rom. 8 v9) and ‘the Eternal Spirit’ (Heb. 9 v14), to mention just a few of his names.
His extreme holiness is most clearly shown in Jesus statement, ‘I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them. But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin.’ (Mark 3 v28-9). (Note, however, that the context shows that such blasphemy is a deliberate and knowing rejection of the saving work of the Holy Spirit – see also Heb. 10 v29.)
Many sects however refuse to acknowledge the Holy Spirit as a person.
- The J.W. ‘New World Translation,’ for instance, consistently refers to ‘the Holy Spirit’ as ‘holy spirit’ and uses ‘it’ instead of ‘he’. The first is defended by them on the grounds that Greek frequently omits ‘the’ and the second because the Greek word for spirit happens to be neuter.Both these things are true: but 35 out of the 55 references to the Holy Spirit in Acts use ‘the’ and all but 2 of the 17 cases where the Holy Spirit is the subject of the statement say ‘the’ (one of the other 2, Acts 19 v2, is clearly meant to read ‘a Holy Spirit’). And although the writers were obliged by Greek grammar to use ‘it’ in association with the neuter word ‘spirit’, their preference for ‘he’ can be seen in John 16 v7-15, where the masculine ‘Counsellor’ is used in v7, followed by ‘spirit’ in v13. In spite of this the phrases ‘When he’ and ‘on his own’ in v13 and ‘He will’ in v15 still use the masculine form.
We don’t need to be Greek scholars, however! A simple-minded reading of John chapters 14-16 will quickly show that the Holy Spirit is indeed a person: he teaches and reminds us (14 v26), testifies of Jesus (15 v26), convicts (16 v8), guides, speaks and hears (v13) and takes what belongs to Jesus and makes it known to us (v14-5).
Romans 8 is particulary useful for convincing those who don’t want to face up to this truth. Verse 34 says ‘Christ .. is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us.’ Intercession is when someone steps in to plead with one person on behalf of another. Ask if Christ could intercede for us if he were not a person? Of course not! Now look at v26-7: the Holy Spirit also intercedes for us, so he must be a person too. Not only that, but ‘the mind of the Spirit’ is clearly spoken of.
Acts 13 v2-4 and 16 v6-7 clearly show the Spirit exercising his will concerning the activities of the church. Rom. 8 v26 speaks of the Spirit groaning for us and Eph. 4 v30 tells us ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption’ (see also Is. 63 v10). Thus all the attributes of a real person are clearly shown in the Holy Spirit.