Five Texts Concerning the Doctrine of the Trinity

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“I am far from pretending to explaining the Trinity so as to render it no longer a mystery.  I think it to be the highest and deepest of all divine mysteries still, notwithstanding anything that I have said or conceived about it,” says Jonathan Edwards.[1]  John Frame defines the doctrine of the Trinity as:  God is one; God is three; the three persons are each fully God; Each of the persons is distinct from the others; the three persons are related to one another eternally as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.[2]  This teaching, as Edwards says, is the greatest divine mystery, in that it reaches into God’s inner life.  Although we cannot grasp everything, studying the Trinity is vital to biblical Christianity. The following are five passages of Scripture that I believe best demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity.

Deuteronomy 6:4-5[3]—The Shema

When first hearing an explanation of the doctrine of the Trinity, many are disturbed or appalled because they misunderstand it to be polytheistic.  For example, one Muslim scholar said, “The Unity of Allah is the distinguishing characteristic of Islam…the worship of Allah Who was neither begotten nor beget nor had any associates with Him in His Godhead.”[4]  God will not forgive those (Christians) who assign partners with Him.  Normal Geisler explains, “The inadequacies in the Muslim view of God arise in part out of their misunderstanding of Christian monotheism.”[5]  Therefore, to give an explanation of the Trinity, we first have to establish God’s unity.  In Deuteronomy 6:4-5, God reveals Himself to be one.  When talking about God’s unity in this context, it means that there is “only one being with that unique nature.”[6]  God affirms Himself as one; there is no God besides Him.

Matthew 3:16-17[7]—Jesus’ Baptism

Although there are Trinitarian texts in the Old Testament,[8] the clearest are those in the New Testament, when God the Son came to earth. When John baptized Jesus, all three Members of the Trinity are present taking three different roles in the occasion.  In verse 16, when Jesus comes up from the water, the heavens opened, and “he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him.”  Then the Father speaks from heaven saying that Jesus is His Son and He is pleased with Him.  Grudem explains, “…God the Father is speaking from heaven; God the Son is being baptized and then is spoken to by God the Father; and God the Holy Spirit is descending from heaven to rest upon and empower Jesus for his ministry.”[9]  The Son is one with the Father, but is not the Father; the Spirit is one with the Father and the Son, but is distinct from the Father and the Son—one God, three distinct Persons.

Matthew 28:19—Great Commission

In order to honor God correctly, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit must be equally honored.  Ignoring any of the three Persons can eventually lead one to suppose that they are not all three divine.  The Arian heresy in the early church demonstrated this error by claiming that at one time only the Father existed and then created the Son and the Holy Spirit, thus making Jesus and the Holy Spirit created beings.[10]  The Great Commission in Matthew 28 is clear that Father, Son, and Spirit are equally God.  Jesus commands his disciples to go to all the nations and baptize people “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”  Is God’s name divided?  Because Psalm 148:13 says that God’s name alone is to be exalted.  God is a jealous God and will not give His glory to any other name (Is. 48:11).  1 Corinthians 1:13-14 explains that we are not to baptize into the name of any teacher, creature, etc.  When Jesus commands his disciples to baptize, He is not denying that they are to baptize in God’s name, but shows that all three Persons of the Trinity are to be present in baptism.  To baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit is to baptize in the name of one God.  If the Holy Spirit were not equally divine with the Father and the Son, or the Son with the other two, then we should not baptize in the name of them.  The Great Commission shows that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are equally God.

1 Peter 1:2—United in Redemption

When Peter addresses the “elect exiles” in 1 Peter, he describes three different acts of the Persons of the Godhead:  The Father foreknows, the Son shed His blood, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies.  God is most clearly shown unified yet distinct in the work of redemption.  The Father’s foreknowledge here means that the Father foreknows and plans, setting forth the order of redemption.  The Son, who sprinkles sinners with His blood, executes the Father’s plan.  It is Jesus’ will to do the will of His Father in heaven (John 6:38).  By His earthly ministry, death, and resurrection, Jesus fulfills the plan of the Father.  The Holy Spirit applies the work of redemption to those the Father predestined to be saved and to those for whom the Son died.  The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not out of sync in their efforts.  They work together in everything and most clearly in the act of redemption.

Acts 2:32-33—Power from On High

When the Holy Spirit fell on the Christians on the day of Pentecost, enabling them to speak in many other languages (v. 4), many present were amazed and confused.  People from all across the known world were hearing the next person speak in his own native language, explaining God’s works (v. 8, 11).  Even though the Christians were astonished at God’s power, there were others who said the Christians were drunk.  Peter addresses the crowd, explaining to them what was happening:  Jesus Christ the Son of God was delivered up to be crucified according to God the Father’s plan, but it was prophesied that Jesus “would not see corruption” and would be raised from the dead.  When Jesus was exalted, the Father gave Him the promised Holy Spirit, and Jesus pours out the Spirit on His followers.  This fulfills what Jesus said in John 16—that He would go away to His Father (v. 7) (exalted to His right hand), and would send the Holy Spirit, who would continue His work (v. 8-11).  In John 14, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to help the disciples recall His words.  “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things…” (v. 26).  This is fulfilled in Acts 2, when the Holy Spirit is poured out on Christians.[11]  The Father pours out the Holy Spirit in the name of the Son, empowering Christians to take the gospel to the ends of the earth.

            God has revealed Himself as one God but also as three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The Three are equal in essence and divinity, but distinct in roles.  Even though the doctrine of the Trinity is too huge for finite minds to understand exhaustively, it is an indispensable truth for those seeking true knowledge of God.

[1] Jonathan Edwards, Writings on the Trinity, Grace, and Faith, ed. Sang Hyun Lee, vol. 21, The Works of Jonathan Edwards (New Haven and London: Yale University, 2003), 134.

[2] John Frame, The Doctrine of God, A Theology of Lordship, vol. 2, (Phillipsburg, NJ: P & R, 2002), 621-622.

[3] Unless further noted, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible: English Standard Version.

[4] Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2002), 268.

[5] Ibid., 269.

[6] Frame, Doctrine of God, 622.

[7] See also Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22; John 1:32-34.

[8] See Gen. 1:2; Ps. 33:6,104:30.  Frame, Doctrine of God, 633.

[9] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology:  An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 230.

[10] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 243.

[11] Frame, Doctrine of God, 640.


Written by keywoodblog

July 18, 2011 at 3:12 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. Solid post, Jay!

    Ben Terry

    July 21, 2011 at 3:19 am

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