Where can we find the Trinity in the Bible?
A woman who does ministry with her husband and their two young children in rural Mexico emailed some questions she had about the Trinity. She was recently told by a pastor, “that the trinity is a doctrine that is not found in the Bible but was made up by the church later.” This caused her concern as she explains, “I know the word itself is not in the Bible but the doctrine seems very important to the Christian worldview.” Her questions on this issue are, “So where did the doctrine of the trinity come from? Where can we find it conceptually in the bible?Why is the trinity important to good doctrine? If someone doesn’t believe in the specific concept, what might be the implications?” I want to thank this woman for allowing me to answer these questions, and even driving up from Mexico with her family to hear me preach and introduce herself and her children. Her questions are complex, and one’s that many people have. So, I will take a four-part blog series to answer them in succession.
To say that God exists as a Trinity does not mean that there are three Gods, or that one God merely manifests himself as either Father, Son, and Holy Spirit on various occasions.
The doctrine of the Trinity brings together three equally essential biblical truths without denying or diminishing any.
First, there is only one true God. The Old Testament contains a number of clear statements that there is only one God. Likewise, the New Testament clearly states that there is only one God. Together, the unending thunderous chorus of Scripture from beginning to end is that there is only one God.
Second, the Father, Son, and Spirit are equally declared to be God throughout Scripture.
There are many Scriptures that clearly and emphatically declare the Father to be God. In the history of the Christian church and all the cults and religions that have erred from biblical truth, there has never been any noteworthy false teaching that has denied the deity of God the Father because it is so obviously clear throughout the entirety of Scripture.
Jesus is also repeatedly declared to be God throughout the Scriptures by both others as well as himself, without apology or correction. It is worth noting that Jesus was ultimately put to death for declaring himself to be God, a declaration that if untrue would have been a violation of the first commandment and a blasphemous sin.
In addition to the Father and Son, the Holy Spirit is clearly called God throughout the Scriptures. Third, the Holy Spirit is clearly called God throughout the Scriptures. In the Old Testament we see he possesses the attributes of God, which reveals his divinity; he is omnipotent or all-powerful, eternal, omniscient or all-knowing, creator, and omnipresent. In the New Testament, he is also clearly declared God. Furthermore, the Holy Spirit is not merely an impersonal force, but a person who can be grieved, resisted, and insulted. The personhood of the Holy Spirit explains why Jesus speaks of him as a personal “he” and not an impersonal “it.”
Third, though one God, the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct persons. The Father and Son are two persons in frequent salutations of letters in the New Testament, as well as in other Scriptures. Scripture is also clear that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are not the same person. Likewise, the Father is not the Holy Spirit. Jesus was repeatedly clear that he and the Father are distinct persons but one God, saying, “I and the Father are one” and “we are one.”
The Biblical revelation of the Trinity begins in the Old Testament. The opening lines of Scripture reveal God in a most surprising way. Look at what it says:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.
We see both God the Father and the Spirit of God involved in creation. Paul reflects this pre-Christian Trinitarian understanding when he describes the Son as “the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him.”John also uses this idea as he teaches about Jesus Christ as the Word: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Just a few verses later in Genesis, God speaks of himself with plural pronouns: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.’” This is very unusual, happening in only three other places in the whole Bible. It makes no sense at all. But when you see the Trinitarian understanding of Genesis 1:1–2, everything falls into place.
We find the three persons referred to in many other passages. One of the most important is “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” We see the “Spirit,” the “me” who is anointed [which is Messiah Jesus], and the “LORD [God the Father].” We read that Jesus began his public ministry by reading this passage and identifying himself as the “me” of Isaiah 61:1 by saying, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
Lastly, the Old Testament reveals in advance the divine Son will come as the Messiah, God coming to save sinners and crush sin on behalf of God the Father:
“The Lord [Father] says to my Lord [Son]: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.’”
- “‘Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.’ And now the Lord God [Father] has sent me [Son], and his Spirit.”
- “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man [Son], and he came to the Ancient of Days [Father] and was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom one that shall not be destroyed.”
From the beginning of the Bible we see the Trinity, as well as other key doctrines, appearing in bud form. As the Scriptures continue to reveal God, what is called progressive revelation, the bud opens bit by bit.
The New Testament continues and deepens the revelation of God living and active in three fully divine persons. While we get glimpses into the inner, heavenly life of Father, Son, and Spirit (what theologians call the immanent or ontological Trinity), Scripture focuses on the concrete and historical acts in which the Trinity is revealed as the three persons work together in creation (what theologians call the economic Trinity). This is helpful because it allows us to see how God always works in unison and does so in history for his glory and our good.
The New Testament tells us more of the Trinity at work in creation, speaking of the role of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
At the baptism of Jesus we witness one of the clearest pictures of the Trinity. Matthew 3:16–17 says, “And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my [Father] beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” All three persons of the Trinity are present, and each one is doing something different, the Father speaking, the Son being anointed and empowered to be Messiah and missionary by the Holy Spirit.
Jesus’ Great Commission is also Trinitarian. Matthew 28:19–20 says, “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.” Baptism is in one name and three persons, an unmistakably Trinitarian formula. In addition, Acts 1:7–8 says, “He [Jesus] said to them, ‘It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’”
Another example is our salvation, in which the entire Trinity is involved, but with distinct roles, as the following verses indicate.
“In love he [the Father] predestined us for adoption through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved [Jesus]. In him [Jesus] we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace. . . . In him [Jesus] you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him [Jesus], were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit.”
“. . . the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood.”
“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior [Father] appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.”
God the Father devised the plan of salvation and predestined our salvation. God the Son came to die on the cross in our place for our sins. God the Holy Spirit takes up residence in Christians to regenerate them and ensure their final salvation. In this, we see the Trinity clearly at work in our salvation.
Furthermore, the entire Trinity is involved in the bestowing of our spiritual gifts: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord [Jesus]; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God [the Father] who empowers them all in everyone.”
When New Testament authors sum things up they often use Trinitarian formulas.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”
“There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—one Lord [Jesus], one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.”
“. . . praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
Finally, Jesus himself describes the Trinity: “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. . . . And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit.”
Note: Much of this blog series is adapted from the book Doctrine: What Christians Should Believe written by Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears