The challenge to the Christian teaching of the Trinity is made by non-Christian religions, and some claiming to be Christian, who teach that the Christian teaching of the Trinity is illogical.
But this challenge, that the teaching of the Trinity is illogical leaves out important considerations. That the doctrine is difficult to understand and doesn't initially make sense has caused some to determine that the doctrine can’t be true. Looking back at the Truth section, our 'Understanding' is not a determining factor to something being true. Think about nuclear physics. How many understand that subject? The fact is we will never fully understand this doctrine because we are finite beings. As finite beings we don’t have the capacity to fully understand the doctrine of an infinite. Even so, we can accept it as true even if we don’t fully understand it, because it is clearly taught in the Bible.
If you have read the previous section on God, you will see the reality of the following statement and verse.
“If God were a God we could understand, he wouldn't be much of a God, would he?”
I heard the pastor Wayne Stockstill make this insightful comment over 25 years ago.
And think about Proverbs 3:5:
Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding".
The misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity, by those who deny the Trinity, is even more magnified because of their insistence to refuse to consider any conclusion other than what they have already arrived at. Similar to those who hold to world-views contradictory to Christianity, those who deny the Trinity are not readily open to considering anything different than what they believe.
If you don’t feel you understand this doctrine, I believe this section will bring much more clarity than you've had before. As I mentioned above, truth is not determined by our understanding of something. And this reality applies to the truths of the Bible, regardless of our understanding or lack of understanding. If the Bible has been proven to have come from God and is proven to be true, our lack of current understanding doesn't prove a section or doctrine false.
I mentioned earlier a statement I had heard:
"God has proven Himself in the things we can check, so that we can have confidence in the things we can't".
Rephrasing this statement for the idea of understanding:
"God has proven Himself in the things we can understand so that we can have confidence in the things we can't"
So, what clarity can we gain? Let's start by indicating what the accurate Biblical doctrine of the Trinity is.
The Bible teaches that Jesus is one of three persons that make up the one God, also referred to as the Godhead. Jesus is co-equal with God the Father and also God the Holy Spirit. However, each of the Persons of the Godhead is a separate person and each have different roles.
Some claim that the Trinity isn’t a Biblical concept because the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. It is true that the word “Trinity” is not found in the Bible. However, does a particular term need to be in the Bible for the Bible to teach the concept? To illustrate this, there are other terms referring to concepts taught in the Bible, but the terms themselves are not in the Bible. The term “Monotheism”, the teaching that there is only one God, isn’t found in the Bible, but few would deny that Monotheism is clearly taught in the Bible. Like Monotheism, if the concept of the Trinity is taught then does it really matter that the Bible doesn’t use a particular word to describe the concept?
What does the Bible teach about the Trinity?
Some will also claim that because they don’t understand the trinity then it can’t be true. Remember, the Truth of something isn’t determined by our understanding of that thing. Remember again the quote from pastor Wayne Stockstill:
“If God were a God we could fully understand,
He wouldn’t be much of a God, would he?”
And think about Proverbs 3:5 again:
Proverbs 3:5 "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding."
There are many things we use every day without understanding that thing’s complexity or functionality. So our full understanding of something doesn't determine the truth of its existence, does it? Do you need to have a complete understanding of how the fuel system of a vehicle atomizes the fuel going into the cylinders, and how the pistons and valves are synchronized to compress the fuel air mixture, to be able to power in internal combustion engine? Do you need to have an understanding of how the hydraulic pumps in an automatic transmission work before you can drive somewhere? Do you need to understand how an LED screen displays an image before you can watch a movie or TV program? Again, the truth of something isn’t determined by whether we understand it or not.
One of the main criticisms of the concept of the Trinity is that it violates logic. The criticism is that if God the Father is God, and Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, then you have something similar to the equation 1+1+1=1 or 3=1. If this is an accurate description of the doctrine then the critics are correct, and this absolutely would violate logic. But is this an accurate description of the Trinity? Just as this equation of 3=1 isn't logical, it also is an inaccurate description of teaching about God.
I believe when some people first hear the 1+1+1=1 analogy, they don’t bother to think beyond the analogy. They instead use it as a confirmation that Christians don’t think logically and that the teaching of the Trinity is illogical. It supports their already negative impression of Christianity.
I believe a more accurate math equation to describe the Trinity is not as 1+1+1=1, but 1x1x1=1. This 1x1x1=1 may at first seem too convenient and simple an answer, but if the relationship can be shown elsewhere in our world, wouldn’t that give the concept validity? So, does this 1x1x1=1 relationship exist elsewhere, and is there a way to better understand this?
You may not have thought about the following examples before in this 1x1x1=1 way, but our universe has a number of Trinitarian or 3 in 1 aspects to it. The following are three examples:
Time = past, present, future
Volume = length, width, and height
Matter = solid, liquid, and gas
Considering there are three primary relationships which make up our universe: Time, Volume, and Matter, you might describe them as,
"A trinity of trinities underlying everything in our Universe."
Another way to refer to them is as in Genesis 1:1; Time, Space, and Matter. Each of these three related properties of our universe is also a 3 in 1 relationship in itself.
In Time; the past is time, the present is time, and the future is time. They are 3 distinct aspects of time and they are all independent of each other, but they are still 1 time. In Volume; length, height, and width are all aspects of volume. But there is still only 1 volume. The same 3 in 1 relationship exists with matter, in Solid, Liquid, and Gas.
Volume is the most accurate illustration I’ve heard for understanding the relationship of the Trinity. Volume = length x width x height.
When you look at an object from each perspective - length, width, or height - you are seeing the entire object, aren't you? Yes. When you look at the surface of an object representing the length of that object, you are seeing the entire object. When you change the position of the object and look at the surface representing the width, you are seeing the entire object. The same with the surface representing the height. But are any of the three views the same as the other two? No. But all three are still of the same one object, right? Yes. So you have length, and width, and height – the three dimensions - each being the one object. And length is not width, width is not height, and height is not length. So, you have three separate identities of an object each being different from each other, but all being the one object.
This is the similar to the three persons of the Trinity being the one God. When we look at each person of the Trinity, we see God, but there is only the one God.
Another Look at the Trinity
Solid Ground - The Trinity: A Solution, Not a Problem
We must remember that any attempt to describe an infinite God using finite illustrations will always fall short. However, this is still the best illustration I’ve seen. When you look at either Jesus, God the Father, or the Holy Spirit, you are seeing all of God. However, each is not the other. The link below will take you to a great article going into some detail on the subject. There is also one of the best diagrams I’ve found illustrating the essential characteristics of the Trinity.
Something I believe gives credibility of the Trinity being a non-human concept, is that it is almost impossible to think of a person inventing this almost incomprehensible idea. Remember again Wayne Stockstill’s quote:
”If God was a God we could fully understand,
He wouldn’t be much of a God, would he?”
I think similar to the Bible indicating complex scientific principles using simple understandable descriptions, I believe God has given us a very basic understanding of certain characteristics of His using simple comparisons with aspects of His Universe.
Another criticism of the concept of the Trinity, is that it has its origin in Paganism. As such, those critics say that it couldn't be true or Biblical. At first, the challenge does seem to have some merit. The examples these critics will give as supposed evidence for this criticism are:
The Greek triad of Zeus, Athena, and Apollo;
The Hindu triad of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva
The Egyptian triad of Isis, Horus, and Sub.
Once researched though, these comparisons doesn't work. The reason is that in each of the above examples, what are presented as evidences of a pagan trinity are actually three gods. They are tri-theistic, three separate gods, and are not the Christian representation of the Trinity - three persons in one God. As well, they have no unity as the unity indicated of the Trinity as described in the Bible. Here are two links which show that the Trinity has no basis in paganism.
Is the Trinity Pagan?
Trinity is not borrowed from the pagans!
So what does the Bible teach?
If the Bible has come from God, then what is written there is true. If the Bible indicates there is only one God, that God the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, then there are three persons existing as the one God, whether we understand it or not. This is fully logical.
So, does the Bible teach the Trinity as has been described in this guide; the concept that there is one God, and that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit are each the one God?
There is only one God who knows everything
1 John 3:20 "for whenever our heart condemns us,
God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything."
Isaiah 43:10 "Before Me there was no God formed,
and there will be none after Me."
Isaiah 44:6 "'I am the first and I am the last,
and there is no God besides Me."
Isaiah 44:8 "Is there any God besides Me,
or is there any other Rock? I know of none."
Isaiah 45:5 "I am Yahweh, and there is no other;
Besides Me there is no God."
Isaiah 45:14 "Surely, God is with you, and there is none else,
No other God."
We see through these verses that the Bible clearly teaches there is one God and only one God. This, for the most part, is acknowledged in Judaism, Islam, and even some teachings of Mormonism and Jehovah’s Witness. This is consistent with the teaching of God the Father in Christianity. What is denied by these other religions is the Christian teaching that while God is one and God the Father is God, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit are each God also, that the one God consists of three persons.
Let us look at what the Bible teaches about Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Once again, if the Bible is true and is God’s word, the truth is not based upon our understanding of the truth. And any contradictory teaching to the truth is false.
One God is referenced in the plural
Gen 1:26 “Then God [singular] said, “Let Us [plural] make man in Our [plural] image, according to Our [plural] likeness...”
Gen 1:27 “So God [singular] created man in His [singular] own image; in the image of God He [singular] created him; male and female He [singular] created them.”
In verse 26, God refers to Himself three times – Us, Our and Our - in the plural while immediately following in verse 27 He refers to Himself in the singular, indicating - His, He and He
Matthew 28:19 “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” [plural]
We are not baptizing in multiple names, but one name. There is but one God and Lord to baptize in the name of. But we are also to baptize in the one name of the three-person Lord: Father, Son and Spirit.
1 John 5:7 “For there are three who bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit: and these three are one.”
This verse states the concept clearly.
2 Corinthians 13:14 “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.”
This verse gives us a glimpse into the different rolls the three persons of the Trinity take.
The Bible teaches Jesus is God
John 1:1 “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”
This verse references two Persons of the Godhead and only one God: "was with God" and "was God"
John 1:3 "All things were made by Him, and without Him was not anything made that was made."
Only God has always existed. If all things were made by Christ, He has always existed, and so must be God
John 8:56 “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.” The Jews said to Him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham? Jesus said to them, ‘Most assuredly I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.”
This shows that Jesus existed as God before His human life, and also referencing God speaking to Moses in Exodus 3:14:
Exodus 3:14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” And he said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”
Hebrews 1:8 “But of the Son He says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.
God the Father refers to the Son as “O God”, and that the Son has a kingdom.
Hebrews 13:8: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.”
This verse shows that Jesus Christ doesn’t change. God the Father doesn’t change. Both Christ and the Father are the unchangeable God.
The Bible teaches that the Holy Spirit is God
Acts 5:3-4 "But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit . . . You have not lied to man but to God.”
Lying to the Holy Spirit is lying to God
2 Corinthians 3:17 "Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.”
The Holy Spirit has Characteristics of Personhood
Some claim that the Holy Spirit is an impersonal force, and not God. These verses clearly teach a different understanding. Can an impersonal force have the personal characteristics indicated in the following verses?
Acts 20:28 “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”
The Spirit is capable of making.
1 Corinthians 2:10 "For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things"
The Spirit is capable of searching.
1 Corinthians 2:11 “Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”
The Spirit is capable of knowing.
Acts 8:29 “Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go near and overtake this chariot.'”
Acts 10:19 “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are looking for you.”
The Spirit is capable of communicating
Ephesians 4:30 "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption."
The Spirit is capable of being grieved
Romans 8:27 "And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because[a] the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God"
The Spirit has a mind, and is capable of interceding
John 14:26 “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.”
The Spirit is capable of teaching
John 16:12-15 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak"
The Spirit is capable of guiding and speaks on God’s authority
Hebrews 10:29 ". . . and has insulted the Spirit of grace?"
The Spirit is capable of being insulted
The Unitarian sect of Christianity denies the trinity and teaches that God is one God. Unitarians fully acknowledge that Jesus is God and the Holy Spirit is God, however they teach that these are the different roles that God operates in. This teaching is called Modalism. In Modalism, God operates in different capacities, but only one mode at a time.
Matthew 3:13-17 is the passage describing the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist and demonstrates that Modalism cannot be an accurate description of of the teaching that God is represented in different modes at different times and circumstances,because God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus are all present at the same time:
Matthew 3:16-17 "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 beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
The above verses clearly teach the concept of the Trinity; that there are three distinct and separate Persons in the one Godhead, and that there is only one God. The Holy Spirit is clearly described with characteristics of person-hood. Each Person is not the other person, yet they are all the one God. The truth of the Trinity is not determined by our ability to understand the Trinity. And if we are to discount the teaching of the Trinity because of the criticism that the word Trinity isn't found in the Bible, we could discount the Biblical teaching of One God because the word Monotheism isn't found in the Bible.
Divine Titles, Functions and Character Qualities ascribed to the Father, Son and Holy Spirit
The Trinity Explained, in Easy Terms
How can one God be three persons?
Understanding The Trinity
The God head-Trinity Described by Ravi Zacharias
What is the Trinity? - Inspiring Philosophy - 12 video playlist
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