The Trinity – How can three be one?
Does the Bible actually teach that God is a Trinity?
A cornerstone of Christianity through the centuries, has been the idea that God is a Trinity. Yet the word Trinity doesn't even appear in the Bible. So where does the belief come from? The purpose of this piece is to look at what God says about Himself in the Bible, and discover the truth He reveals to us there.
The word “Trinity” does not actually appear in the Bible, so we will not take time to dwell on the word here. We only use it because so many people are familiar with the term. But the Bible uses the word “Godhead” instead. And when it does, it is talking about the divine nature. Here is the Biblical definition:
Godhead (Strong's reference number G2305)
So when the Bible speaks of the Godhead, it means that which is divine in nature – everything that can rightly be called “God.” Here are examples of it used in the text:
“For since the creation of the world His [God's] invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead.” – Romans 1:20
“we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold, or silver, or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.” – Acts 17:29
So let's go on to ask what the Bible places under the banner of being divine in nature.
THE GOD OF THE BIBLE
Our first introduction to the God of the Bible is found in the very first verse:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” – Genesis 1:1
When we look at the Biblical definition of this word “God,” we notice something interesting. Just as it is in English, the word God, is not a name but a title for a type of being, a divine being. But the fascinating part is that “Elohim” is used here, instead of the more likely choice of “Eloha”. You see, “Eloha” is the Hebrew word for a single god, while “Elohim” (the word the verse actually uses), is the plural form. We might have been forgiven for expecting it to be translated as “gods”, though when it refers to the God who's name is Jehovah, it gets used in the “plural intensive - singular meaning.” Don't expect that to make too much sense just yet, but hopefully it will soon. Here is the Biblical definition:
God (Strong's reference number H430)
“Elohim” in the Hebrew
(plural intensive - singular meaning) the one true God
Now keep in mind that the plural word for God is used, when you read the statement made only a few verses later:
“And God [Elohim] said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness.” – From Genesis 1:26
Notice how God is referred to as “Our” (plural). The same thing happens again only two chapters later:
“Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil.”’ – Genesis 3:22a
When it says the “LORD God” here, the word “LORD” is written in all capital letters. This is a helpful clue translators use to tell us that the original Hebrew text has mentioned God by His actual name, “Jehovah”. So every time we see the word “LORD” or “GOD” (which are both titles) written in all capitals, we know that the original Hebrew text actually uses God's name instead. Here is the Bible dictionary definition of His name:
LORD/GOD (Strong's reference number H3068)
“Jehovah” in the Hebrew
Jehovah = "the existing One" the proper name of the one true God.
So back to our point: It is Jehovah who said, “Let Us make man in Our image”, and later, “man has become like one of Us.” And that same Jehovah God, says of Himself:
“I am the LORD [Jehovah] and there is no other; There is no God besides Me.” – Isiah 45:5a
There are many examples in the Bible where we are told there is only one God:
“the LORD Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:39b
This same Jehovah God tells us that He is the creator – He alone made everything:
“For thus says the LORD, Who created the heavens, Who is God, Who formed the earth and made it...‘I am the LORD, and there is no other.’” – Isiah 45:18
So then Jehovah tells us that He is the only single God, and He is the creator. And yet that same God Jehovah speaks of Himself as a group. So what are we supposed to do with the strange references to“Us” and “Our” in Genesis?
THE “US” OF CREATION
Let's look at the passage again:
“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” – Genesis 1:1-2
Now we know that the Spirit of God was with God during creation. And we see this idea of the Spirit of God co-creating, echoed again in the book of Job:
“The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty has given me life.” – Job 33:4
The Spirit of God then, was with God before the world was ever made. And the Spirit of God was a co-creator. But – some may argue – how do we know that the “Spirit of God” is not just another way of talking about God Himself? Let's use Jesus' words to show the distinction between God (also called the Father), and the Spirit of God (also called the Holy Spirit):
“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever... the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name” – John 14:16, 26a
Can you see that Jesus is asking His Father to send another? The word “another” means that the Holy Spirit is distinct from the Father, in some way separate from the Father. Take another example:
“But when the Helper comes, whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who proceeds from the Father, He will testify of Me.” – John 15:26
So the Holy Spirit is “another”, who proceeds “from the Father”. If He was Himself the Father, Jesus would simply have said the Father will come. As a last example we will use Jesus' words again, when He said:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” – Matthew 28:19
When Jesus says disciples must be baptised in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit, it seems clear that all three had to be mentioned because there is a distinction between them. The Father is not the Spirit, just as Jesus is not the Father. If there was no difference, no sense of individuality, He could just have said, “in the name of the Father”. And so we see that the Spirit of God, and Father God, are distinct from each other. And if that is true, then they were both together performing the act of creation. This begins to make some sense of who the “Us” of creation is. But there is more.
THE SON OF GOD IN CREATION
In the New Testament we discover this verse:
“God... created all things by Jesus Christ”– Ephesians 3:9
So here we have a verse that says Jesus was with God, and helping God during the act of creation. In fact there are more passages that tell us that Jesus (the Son of God) was the creator of all things:
“the Father... [has] conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son... [who] is the image of the invisible God... For by Him [the Son] all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him.” – from Colossians 1:12-16
So then the Son of God is the one through whom all things were created. Now let's take a look at a well-known passage from the gospel of John:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by Him [the Word]; and without Him was nothing made that was made... And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten [Son] of the Father).” – from John 1:1-4,14
So we can see here that in the beginning, when God created He was not alone. “The Word” was with Him. And verse 14 reveals to us that “the Word” is a reference to the Son of God (Jesus Christ). So these verses have shown us that Jesus Christ was there in the beginning and nothing was created without Him.
So we conclude then that when God said, “Let Us make,” the “Us” was, Father God, the Word (Son of God) and the Spirit of God (Holy Spirit). But Genesis told us that “God created,” and Isaiah told us that, “Jehovah... created the heavens... and there is no other.”
Are we not then forced to assume that since the Son and the Spirit both existed before creation, and both participated in the act of creation, that both are also divine in nature?
THE SON IS GOD
Let's look again at our previous text:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” – John 1:1
If the Word is God, and Jesus Christ is the Word, then Jesus is God. But look at the intriguing relationship here – He is both with God, and also is God. To be with God and at the same time to be God, suggests a very unique relationship, which we will go into in section five. But first, go to the book of Hebrews and we find another fascinating text, where God the Father calls His own Son “God”:
“And again, when God brings His first begotten into the world, He says, ‘Let all God’s angels worship Him’.... But to the Son He says, ‘Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever’’ – Hebrews 1:6, 8
This one text is enough to establish the fact that the Son of God is Himself also God. But the Bible offers us many more evidences. Take a look at yet another extraordinary passage, this one from the Old Testament, prophesying of Jesus' birth. Again, take careful notice of what He is being called here:
“For unto us a Child is born, unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace”– Isaiah 9:6a
Aren't“Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father” meant to be titles reserved for Father God alone? How is it that Jesus is sharing them with His Father? Maybe a clue can be found in the next verses:
“All things that the Father has are Mine.” – John 16:15a
“The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand.” – John 3:35
In our thinking, it would be wrong for Jesus to share the titles of His Father, and yet the Bible reveals that it is the Father's greatest pleasure to lavish “all things” on His Son. He desires to have all His own fullness dwell in and expressed through His Son.
“For it pleased the Father that in Him [Christ] all the fullness should dwell” – Colossians 1:19
“in Him [Christ] dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” – Colossians 2:9
Here we can see that even the “fulness of the Godhead” (the divine nature) is in Jesus Christ. This is why the Father calls Jesus “God”, and why the prophet Isaiah says His name will be “Mighty God,” and why the Apostle John said Jesus (the Word) is God – because He is.
The Apostle Paul put it this way, that though Jesus was God, He chose to lower Himself and come to earth as a man:
“Christ Jesus... being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, But made Himself of no reputation” – Philippians 2:5b-6
By saying it was not robbery to be equal with God, the text reveals that Jesus had a rightful claim to equality with God. But instead of claiming that right, He subjected Himself to serve His Father. Still, Jesus knew who He was. See what He said to the Jews who challenged Him:
“‘Most assuredly, I [Jesus] say to you, if anyone keeps My word he shall never see death.’ Then the Jews said to Him, ‘Now we know that You have a demon! Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and You say, “If anyone keeps My word he shall never taste death.” Are You greater than our father Abraham, who is dead?... Who do You make Yourself out to be?’...[Jesus replied] ‘Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad.’ Then 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.’ Then they took up stones to throw at Him” – John 8:51-53, 56-59a
What has happened here? Jesus has just revealed His deity, by claiming a name that belongs to God alone. And because the Jews understood what He had done, they wanted to stone Him for blasphemy. You see, by calling Himself “I AM”, Jesus was calling Himself Jehovah – God's actual name (this is why some Bibles write it in all capitals).
Maybe this will be easier to see if we go back to the Old Testament where God reveals His name to Moses:
“Then Moses said to God, ‘Indeed, when I come to the children of Israel and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they say to me, “What is His name?” what shall I say to them?’ And God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM.’ And... ‘Thus you shall say to the children of Israel, “I AM has sent me to you... this is My name for ever, and this is My memorial unto all generations.” – Exodus 3:13-14, 15b
It is from this term, “I AM” that the name Jehovah comes. Jehovah literally means “I am” or “I exist”. See the definition we mentioned earlier:
Jehovah = "the existing One" the proper name of the one true God.
When God says here, "I Am that I Am" (or it could also be translated "I exists because I exist"), God is revealing Himself as the being that needs no one and nothing else in order to exist. He is. He exists as the independent self-sufficient one. He is the original cause of everything else in creation, and He does not need any of it to sustain Him. Even if oxygen did not exist, He still would.
So when Jesus says, “before Abraham was, I AM,” not only was He saying that He existed even before Abraham (who lived all of 2000 years earlier), but He was using a name reserved only for God. The Jews understood He was making this claim. See only two chapters later where they said to Him:
“‘We are [stoning You]... for blasphemy, because You, a mere man, claim to be God.’ ... [Jesus replied] ‘Do not believe Me unless I do the works of My Father. But if I do them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works, that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”’ – from John 10:33-38
Notice how Jesus did not deny that He was claiming to be God. Instead He gave them even more reason to believe Him. Let's take our last example from the account where Thomas was struggling to believe that Jesus had been resurrected until Jesus appeared to him:
“Then He [Jesus] said to Thomas, ‘Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.’ And Thomas answered and said to Him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ Jesus said to him, ‘Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”’ – John 20:27-29
Jesus did not rebuke Thomas for calling Him God. Instead He encourages him, and blesses those who come to the same revelation without needing all the evidence Thomas did.
The Bible does not hide Jesus' deity, we could bring plenty more examples, but they would be of little use to those who choose not to believe. The true question here is not, “Where is the evidence of Jesus' divinity?” but “Will we accept the evidence the Bible offers?”
MANY GODS OR ONE GODHEAD?
So if Jesus is God, and the Father is God, then don't we have two Gods? Actually no, what we do have is what the Apostle Paul calls, “the mystery of God”:
“[that you may know] the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ” – Colossians 2:2b
See how the mystery is of “God” (singular), and yet of “both” Father and Christ (plural). Now, with all that has been said, we are finally ready to take a look at a fascinating thing that happens in Genesis:
“And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness... So God created man in His own image” – From Genesis 1:26-27
“Then the LORD God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil’... So He drove out the man.” – Genesis 3:22a, 24a
Notice in both cases how God is first referred to in the plural form, and then it swops over to the singular form. What has happened here is that God refers to Himself inwardly as “Us” and “Our” (who we already know means Father, Son and Spirit who created together). But when acting outwardly, all three act as one God. Let's put that another way: We see here that God inwardly experiences three persons within the Godhead but He acts outwardly as a single Godhead.
So the term “Godhead” begins to help us now. We opened this piece by pointing out that the term “Godhead” refers to the divine nature, all that can be called God. And so if the Father, Christ and the Spirit are all divine, then all must be included in the Godhead. There are therefore three divine beings that form a single Godhead. In fact there is a second Biblical definition for the word “Godhead’ we have not yet mentioned, it is:
Godhead (Strong's reference number G2304)
a general name of deities or divinities as used by the Greeks
when spoken of the only and true God, it is the Trinity: of Christ, Holy Spirit, the Father.
ONE IN WORK
Time and time again we see the Godhead working together in the Bible. We have already shown how creation was done by them together. Now look at how all three participated in Jesus' baptism:
“When He had been baptised, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, ‘This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”’ – Matthew 3:16-17
In all things the Godhead works as one:
“elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ” –1 Peter 1:2
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all.” – 1 Corinthians 12:4-6
“For through Him [Jesus] we... have access by one Spirit to the Father.” – Ephesians 2:18
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.” – 2 Corinthians 13:14
So Father, Son and Spirit all share a divine nature, and they work together in what they do, but are they three separate beings or is their union more complete than that?
ONE IN ESSENCE
The Apostle John tells us the three members of the Godhead are in fact one:
“For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word [the Son of God], and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one.” – 1 John 5:7-8
John's statement is very clear. He did not mean that Father, Son and Spirit simply act as one (in agreement or unity of heart), but he says they “are one”. This is made even more clear by the next verse, where the Spirit, water and blood are only said to agree “as one”.
We see the same idea of a shared identity again when the Holy Spirit is called both “the Spirit of God” and “the Spirit of Christ”:
“But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” – Romans 8:9
So which is it? Or are Father and Son so perfectly knit that it really doesn't matter which way around you describe the Spirit? Remember that Jesus called Himself “I AM”, and Isaiah called Jesus “Everlasting Father”. But let's go even a step deeper. Look at these next few verses and notice how the language is interchangeable. We could say:
The Holy Spirit dwells in us,
God dwells in us, or
Christ dwells in us
These different descriptions are used as if they are all saying the very same thing – because they are:
“by this we know that He [God] abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us.” – 1 John 3:24b
“Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We [Christ and the Father] will come to him and make Our home with him.” – John 14:23
“you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will dwell in them’” – 2 Corinthians 6:16a
“And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit” – Acts 2:4a
“To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” – Colossians 1:27
“There is one body, and one Spirit... One Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is... in you all.” – Ephesians 4:4-6
The same pattern follows in the Bible with other acts of God as well. Jesus says He lays down His life, and He takes it up again. While other verses say the Father raised Jesus from the dead.
“No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” – John 10:18
“But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.” – Romans 8:11
“if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” – Romans 10:9
Or look at this peculiar verse which says “the Lord is the Spirit.” Now the word “Lord” in the New Testament – 9 out of 10 times – refers to Jesus Christ (with the last few exceptions referring to the Father).
“Now the Lord is the Spirit; and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17
“The first man Adam became a living being. The last Adam [Jesus] became a life-giving spirit.” – 1 Corinthians 15:45
Again, see how Jesus' attributes of being the “life” and the “truth”, are given to the Holy Spirit as well:
“Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.” – John 14:6a
“who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” – 2 Corinthians 3:6
“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth” – John 16:13a
It seems there is a shared essence amongst Father, Son and Spirit which goes far beyond simple agreement. Their bond is quite unlike anything else we are familiar with. Somehow they truly are one. Jesus says as much, when He tells us that to see Him is to see the Father:
“He who has seen Me [Jesus Christ] has seen the Father” – John 14:9b
He does not say seeing Him is “like”, or is “as good as” seeing the Father. No, seeing Him is seeing the Father. And again:
“I and My Father are one.” – John 10:30
So how do we take all we have said and come to any conclusions about God, when so many of the texts seem to contradict each other? Well, as it always is with the Bible – the only faithful interpretation of the text is the one that agrees with every verse. We think an analogy will help us here.
THREE IN ONE
Think of fire: The flame itself is what we call the fire. Without a flame, we cannot say there is a fire. But the flame is not alone: the fire also produces heat, and light. Flame, heat and light are three components, or three aspects of a fire. The heat and light come forth from the flame.
This might be a helpful way to get our minds around the Godhead. The Godhead in this analogy, would be the fire. Father is the flame, He is the source of everything, the original cause. Jesus then, would be the light, that which we see and understand of God, that which comes forth from God to make Him visible. And the Spirit would be the heat, the active working power of God, the thing we feel that affects us when God is at work.
Do we think there are three fires because fame, light and heat are all present? No. Instead we know that they always work together as one. They are one, while at the same time being three unique, different things. But even though they are different, it is impossible to separate them out from one another as three separate things. They are collectively part of one union – fire.
Again, when we describe the work of a fire, we could say the flame destroyed the wood. We could also say that the heat burned up the wood. And a poet might write that the light consumed the wood. All would be correct and true, without making the other statements incorrect. The fire, all its aspects working together as one, burned the wood. In the same way, there is no contradiction in the text when we hear different members of the Godhead have performed the same acts.
When we collect all the Biblical evidence together, what are the possible understandings of the nature of the Godhead we can come to?
Can we say that because the Bible says there is only one God, therefore Jesus can't be God, because that would mean there are two Gods?
Clearly we have to s