The Doctrine of the Trinity
A Study of the Deity of Christ
Jesus said: “all should honour the Son just as they honour the Father . . . I and My Father are one”
The Nature of God
The many different names of God in the Bible each reveal something of the nature of God. When Moses asked God what He was called, God replied “Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh” (“I am what I am”). In short, God called Himself “I AM” (Exodus 3:14). God also told Moses to use the Hebrew word “Yud-Heh-Vav-Heh” [ADONAI] when communicating God’s name to the Israelites. This four-letter Hebrew word, usually referred to as the four letter tetragrammaton, YHVH, is the personal name of God and occurs more then 6,800 times in the Hebrew scriptures, link. Because it is unpronounceable, sometimes YHVH is transliterated as “Yahweh”, although there is no “w” sound in Hebrew.
Adonai literally means “my Lord” and reveals a little more about the nature of God. It is simply the plural of of the Hebrew word “Adon” (which means lord or master). The plural, “Adonai” occurs as a title of God in countless places e.g.
Go, gather the leaders of Israel together and say to them “ADONAI, the God of your fathers . . . “Exodus 3:16
So, at the outset, God is both self-existing (always has been and always will be) and is seen in scripture in plural form (a Trinitarian concept).
The Nature of Christ
In the few centuries just after Jesus Christ’s ministry various ideas sprang up as to His exact nature. Was He man? Was He God? Was He God appearing as a man? Was He an illusion? Was He a mere man who became God? Was He created by God the Father, or did He exist eternally with the Father?
Eventually, after much debate, the mystery of Christ was expressed as a Trinitarian doctrine at the First Council of Constantinople (381 AD). The Council adopted a statement which would become known as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. Translated into English it read:
We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; and in one Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, begotten of the Father before all ages . . . And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord and Giver of life, who proceeds from the Father, who with the Father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets …
So Trinitarians believe that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are co-equal personalities in the Godhead. This fundamental Christian belief is expressed in several Creeds.
The Trinitarian Doctrine is seen in many Biblical texts
Today the doctrine of the Trinity, and particularly the divinity of Jesus Christ, is under continual attack. For example, the New World Translation (JW Bible) maintains that “Jesus was no more and no less than a perfect human being”. Similarly, Unitarians hold that in God there is one personality, the Father, and that the Son and Holy Spirit are subordinate beings.
But if we take these views of Jesus, we remove the ultimate act of love for mankind viz. God in human form dying for man to redeem him to Himself.
Whilst the term ‘Trinity’ is not in the Bible, the concept of the Trinity attempts to explain and collate the many references to the attributes of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We will see that each of these references is compatible with the doctrine of the Trinity. In contrast, many scriptures are in conflict with the concept that Jesus was simply a perfect human being. To quote C. S. Lewis:
A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice.
Let’s go through the Bible and build up our view of a Triune God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit):
- Genesis 1:2 : The Spirit of God (later referred to as the Holy Spirit) was present at creation
- Genesis 1:26, 3:22 : These verses imply the plurality of God (the term ‘Us’)
- Isaiah 9:6 : This is a clear prophecy of the first coming of Christ. Although a human child, Jesus is also called Mighty God and Eternal Father. Clearly, God visited man in the form of a man
- Isaiah 63:10 : Here we see that it is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit, implying the Spirit has personality
- Matthew 28:19 : Jesus links Himself with the Father and the Holy Spirit. All three are linked under a singular name (no mere man in his right mind could claim this)
- Luke 10:16 : Jesus links Himself to the Father (again, no mere man in his right mind could claim this)
- John 1:1 : It is stated the Word (Christ) was present at the start of creation, and that He ‘was God’
- John 2:19 : Jesus says that even if they kill Him, He himself will raise His body up in 3 days. Elsewhere we read of God raising Him up (again underscoring the deity of Christ)
- John 5:23 : Jesus says that we should give the same honour to the Son as to the Father
(again, no mere man in his right mind could claim this)
- John 8.58 : Jesus clearly states that he was in existence before Abraham. Moreover, the term ‘I AM’ implies eternal existence, not just birth before Abraham. Most significantly, as discussed, God’s name “Ehyeh” means “I AM”
- John 10:30 : Jesus says He and the Father are ‘one’ – another claim of equality with the Father
- John 14:9 : Jesus says that anyone who has seen Him has also seen the Father (again, no mere man in his right mind could claim this)
- John 14:10 : Jesus claims He is “in the Father and the Father is in Him”
- John 14:17 : Jesus refers to the personality of the Holy Spirit
- John 14:23 : Jesus clearly links Himself with the Father (using the plurality ‘Our’), as though they are one being (again, no mere man in his right mind could claim this)
- John 16:13-14 : Jesus again refers to the personality of the Holy Spirit
- John 20:28 : Thomas calls Jesus his God, and Jesus accepts his words. (no mere man in his right mind could accept such a statement about himself)
- Acts 5:3-4 : Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as God
- 2 Corinthians 13:14 : Paul links God (the Father) with Jesus and the Holy Spirit in a benediction
- Colossians 1:15-19 : This text claims Jesus Christ (with the Father – see other texts) created all things, and holds all things together. Some take the term ‘firstborn of all creation’ (v15) to imply that Jesus was the first of all created beings. But this view is incompatible with v16 – one cannot create oneself!
- Ephesians 4:10 : This states the omnipresence of the risen Christ. If Christ was a mere man, even after resurrection from the dead it could not be claimed that he filled the universe!
- Hebrews 1:8-9 : Here God (the Father) refers to His Son as God. An amazingly clear statement of the deity of Christ!
- Revelation 22:1,3 : God (the Father) and the Lamb (Christ) occupy a single throne, and are referred to by the singular term ‘Him’ (v3)
All the above scriptures (and many more) are compatible with the doctrine that Christ is part of the so-called ‘Godhead’. He is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Whilst true understanding of this doctrine is beyond the human mind, any other view of Christ e.g. that He was a perfect man (nothing more, nothing less), is incompatible with the above scriptures. To hold to the latter view one has to move away from standard Biblical interpretation.
Despite its mystery, it may help to view the Trinity as: