The Doctrine of the Trinity
Seeking the Truth
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 …
Today 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”. If we take this view of Jesus, we remove the ultimate act of love for mankind (God dying for man to redeem him).
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.
Let’s go through the Bible and build up our view of Christ:
- 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
- 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
- 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 14:17 : 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: