When I was little, my mom tried to explain the Trinity to me. After she was done, I exclaimed, “OOOOOH. So they’re like a family! God’s the Daddy, Jesus is His Son, and the Holy Spirit is their dog!”
My mom gasped, “Felicity! That’s – that’s – that’s blasphemous!” And then she laughed.
If you’ve been a Christian for an extended period of time, you have at some point heard of the “Trinity”. No doubt you were told that the Trinity is God in 3 persons, but still 1. Other sects of Christianity and forms of theism (like Muslims, Jehovah Witnesses, etc.) often retort that evangelicals believe in three gods, not one. Thus, the Trinity is a hard concept to comprehend, and even harder still to explain. However, this does not diminish the fact that it is essential for every Christian to understand.
The Bible teaches that the Father is God, Jesus is God, and the Holy Spirit is God. The Bible also teaches that there is only one God. This sounds like a contradiction, so hang on one second.
Scripture presents the doctrine in various instances:
- Genesis 1:26 is the first suggestion of the Trinity: “Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…'”
- Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.”
- 1 Corinthians 8:6, the Lord is proclaimed as God. In Titus 2:13, Jesus is proclaimed as God. In 2 Corinthians 3:17, the Holy Spirit is proclaimed as God.
- In John 17:22, Jesus prays to God, “The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one…”
The term “Trinity” is actually not a biblical term, i.e. it is never referenced specifically as “the Trinity” in Scripture. Theophilus of Antioch, one of the first apologists, was the first person recorded to use the term, in 170 A.D.:
In like manner also the three days which were before the luminaries, are types of the Trinity, of God, and His Word, and His wisdom. And the fourth is the type of man, who needs light, that so there may be God, the Word, wisdom, man.
However, Tertullian, a 3rd century Latin theologian, is considered the person to actually originate the term, in order to describe how God is “one in essence—not one in Person”. The word “Trinity” is derived from the Latin trinitas, meaning “the number three, a triad”.
B. B. Warfield, who was a professor of theology at Princeton Seminary in the late 1800s, remarked that the entire New Testament “is Trinitarian to the core; all its teaching is built on the assumption of the Trinity; and its allusions to the Trinity are frequent, cursory, easy, and confident.”
As I said before, though, the Trinity is not easy to grasp for man. The concept is so different and strange to our typical reasoning. It sounds contradictory! How on earth can you have three different people that make up one person?! Does God have an identity crisis? Is he schizophrenic?
Theologians have designed various analogies in order to help us grasp the concept. For example, according to the Christian apologist Norman L. Geisler, there are two helpful analogies. The first is the triangle – there are three parts to a triangle, and without one of these parts, the shape is no longer a triangle. These parts combined make one triangle. Another is one to the third power (13) – in essence, it’s 1 * 1 * 1, but still equals 1.
Other examples you may have heard of are apples (the skin, flesh, and core of the fruit are three parts that still make one apple), an egg (the yoke, shell, and embryo still make one egg), and families (the father, mother, and child are three parts of one family unit). The problem with these analogies is that they don’t help us to visualize what it must be like to have 3 distinct persons with 3 distinct responsibilities that still make up 1 person.
But why is any of this important? Why on Earth does this matter?! The reason the Trinity is so important for us to understand is that each person of the Trinity’s “accomplishments” belongs to one. We can serve a God who is the Creator (God the Father), the one who gave us salvation (Christ the Son), and our Ultimate Guide (the Holy Spirit). Thus, our God created us, saved us, and guides us today. For example, Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrated His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” This interchanging of names shows how both God and Christ are the same. That means even the Greatest God, the Almighty, the most powerful being in this entire universe died in our place; He who knew no sin became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21). This removed our burden of sin and allows us to enter into that desired fellowship with the Holy Spirit, who is also God.
Saint Augustine, in his work, City of God, wrote:
“These Three are equal and co-eternal, and absolutely of one nature: and [not] that the creatures have been made, and some by the Father, and some by the Son, and some by the Holy Spirit, but that each and all that have been or are now being created subsist in the Trinity as their Creator.”
This post is by no means meant to be an exhaustive and comprehensive analysis of the Trinity. There are plenty of books and resources on the subject. However, in order to fathom God, it is essential to at least have even the smallest apprehension of the Trinity. I know that many accuse Christians of having “blind faith” – that we believe what we’re told at church, without having any kind of reasoning behind it or personal conviction of why we believe what we believe. At least for me, though, I had to come to a place that I accepted that my mind is finite and cannot possibly master everything.
If God is all-powerful, created a complex universe, and has ways that are higher than ours, doesn’t it stand to reason that there will be aspects of God’s nature that will be impossible for us to fully understand here on Earth? I don’t mean we believe blindly and choose to turn a blind eye to things we don’t understand. I mean we research, study, and figure out as much as we can, but accept in humility there are things that we cannot understand.
Our intention, then, is to not give you a full academic paper on everything about the Trinity. Instead, our hope with these Apologetics posts is to open a conversation. Thus, we’d love to answer any questions you may have on this topic. Comment below and we’ll get back to you right away. Tell us your thoughts, too – we’d love to hear them.