Most nights I try to set aside time before bed to talk to and teach my kids about God. On this particular night, I mentioned the word, “Trinity”. My kids looked at me with a blank stare and asked, “What’s that?”. Wow did my heart sink! For two years I have been teaching them about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and yet they didn’t even recognize the term that describes the unique union of Yahweh, the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. I realized that I had work to do.
You actually won’t find the word “Trinity” in the Bible. The term wasn’t coined until the early church father, Tertullian gave the scriptural teaching a name in the early second century. In his book, “Adversus Praxeas” written in 210 A.D, Tertullian wrote (in speaking of the Trinity),
*”We … believe that there is one only God, but under the following dispensation… that this one only God has also a Son, His Word, who proceeded from Himself, by whom all things were made, and without whom nothing was made.
Him we believe to have been sent by the Father into the Virgin, and to have been born of her-being both Man and God, the Son of Man and the Son of God, and to have been called by the name of Jesus Christ;
We believe Him to have suffered, died, and been buried, according to the Scriptures, and, after He had been raised again by the Father and taken back to heaven, to be sitting at the right hand of the Father, and that He will come to judge the quick and the dead; who sent also from heaven from the Father, according to His own promise, the Holy Ghost, the Paraclete, the sanctifier of the faith of those who believe in the Father, and in the Son, and in the Holy Ghost.”
Tertullian’s statements would further influence the Nicene Creed (commonly known as the Apostle’s Creed) at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. Yes, the term “Trinity” is not in the Bible. But the more you read the scriptures, the more you see the doctrine of God as one essence in three persons weaved throughout the pages. I was raised going to church as a kid, but when I wholeheartedly believed and became a Christian in my 30’s I wanted to be a true Berean and see if what I was told was true.
The most classic example of the Trinity is found in the gospels. Matthew 3:16-17 states,
“As soon as Jesus was baptized, He went up out of the water. Suddenly the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and resting on Him. And behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
See there? Jesus the Son is bodily on Earth. God the Spirit descends like a dove. And then God the Father speaks from Heaven. This destroys the argument of modalism, the false teaching that there is one God who wears different masks; takes on the different roles Father, Son, and Spirit as He pleases. No, they are three distinct persons who SHARE the one title and essence of Yahweh, God.
One of my favorite trinitarian passages I found was actually in the first book of the Bible. I had never noticed it before. In Genesis, God is creating the Heavens and the Earth. In 1:26 we find,
“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
God said, let “us”. Let that sink in for a minute, wow! Who was present when God said, “us”? That will give us more clues. The apostle John gives us some clarity on this when he tells us in the first chapter of his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:1-4)
John reveals to us the mystery that was hidden, Jesus Christ is the Word! The apostle John continues this reveal in 1:14, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” So let’s go back to Genesis. “Then God ‘said'”. We have learned that when God spoke creation into existence, JESUS is the very word that created everything. So we have God the Father speaking, and God the Son creating as the Word. Now where is the Holy Spirit? We find him in Genesis 1:2,
“The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.”
So who was present in Genesis 1, when God said, “Let us…”? The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Incredible! The more you read the scriptures, the more you will see the truth of this revelation. It’s helpful to interpret the old testament through the new, understanding that God has chosen to progressively reveal more and more as the centuries passed until the completion of divine revelation at the death of the last apostle. As the apostle Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17,
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
Also from the Apostle Paul, he tells us in Colossians 2:9, “For in him (Christ) the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily..” There are many false teachings that will affirm that Jesus atoned for our sins, even that he is the Messiah, but they will deny that he is God. The true, Christian understanding of God is as Tertullian so eloquently defined the Trinity: “God is one substance (or essence) in three persons.” To be Christian is to be Trinitarian (among other things, but that’s a different blog article!).
We must read the 66 books of the Bible as a whole to get the complete revealed story of creation and redemption. And when you do, the Trinity of God leaps from it’s inspired pages to those who have been granted eyes to see. Thank you God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, for revealing to us in these last days what were hidden from the days of old!
*Quote from Tertullian’s book cited from the website: http://www.reformation21.org in an article by Todd Reseter titled, “The Trinity: Tertullian and Hilary”.