Do You Need The Trinity Explained To You?
How does a Christian explain the trinity, and how important is it really? You may be asking yourself this question. Understanding the trinity is crucial because it’s necessary in order to know the character of God.
The character of God is both complex and lovely. Deep but approachable. To describe God, to know Him, and to embrace His character, you must know Him as He truly is: a triune God. His personhood is both three and one.
I know this is a complicated idea, but bear with me patiently as I explain the holy trinity, because the trinity is the reason we can genuinely delight in the Godhead.
Believe it or not, the “holy trinity” is not a Biblical term! That’s a bit of a red flag, right? Well, not exactly. The concept of the trinity is based in a doctrine of the church that became more defined in the third century. The basis for the trinity is still deeply rooted in the Bible’s New Testament, as I’ll explain below. Defining the trinity is not embellishing or adding to what the Bible teaches us, it’s defining who God is as revealed BY Scripture.
The Trinity Defined
The trinity, simply put, refers to God being One person, but existing in three coexisting, coeternal, cosubstantial persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. They are distinctive, and connect with us meaningfully in different ways, but they are One. We worship all three as equals when we worship God.
When you read this you might think to yourself: “Wow, ok, this is getting out of my depth. Maybe God didn’t really mean for us to understand the whole trinity thing! The Bible says God is a mystery doesn’t it?” I know, it’s challenging stuff! But when the Bible uses the word “mystery” it rarely if ever means the kind of mystery that pops into our minds. Agatha Christie novels, or Sherlock Holmes puffing on a pipe as he sniffs around a crime scene – the Bible’s literal translation doesn’t mean the murky unknown, or something that will always leave us guessing. When Paul speaks in Ephesians 3, for example, on the “mystery” of the Gentile’s (non-Jew’s) salvation, what this literally means is a “secret”. But it’s a secret being revealed! In his book, Delighting in the Trinity, author Michael Reeves puts it this way: “God is a mystery in that who He is and what He is like are secrets, things we would never have worked out by ourselves”, like the trinity, “but because the triune God has revealed himself, we can understand the trinity”.
God WANTS us to know Him. He doesn’t just want us to be holy. To be kind. To be loving. Those things should all be natural consequences of our main purpose: knowing (and loving) Him better. He gave us all of Scripture so that we could do just that. Antagonists of Christian faith may point to the trinity as inconsistent, or mention that the three persons of the trinity must be at odds, but this isn’t the truth. Let me break it down for you.
God Is Singular
Our first truth to understand is that God is a singular being. There is only God, not subsidiary beings with different essences. The Bible is full of this truth, but here are some concrete examples from Scripture:
“To you it was shown that you might know that the Lord, He is God; there is no other besides Him” ~ Deuteronomy 4:35
God is the only god. We are not talking about multiple gods.
“For this reason You are great, O Lord God; for there is none like You, and there is no God besides You, according to all that we have heard with our ears” ~ 2 Samuel 7:22
If there is none LIKE God then how do you explain Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit? Aren’t they like Him? They are more than like God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit ARE God. They share not just mindset, but their very essence.
“’You are My witnesses,’ declares the Lord, ‘And My servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe Me, and understand that I am He. Before Me there was no God formed, and there will be none after Me’” ~ Isaiah 43:10
Again, the Lord makes it clear there are no other gods or separate deities created before or after Him. It’s clear from reading these passages that God did not leave room for secondary gods, nor did He suggest that there would be add-ons to Himself over time. God was and is God, completely, and fully; He is One.
God Is Plural
So if the Bible always speaks of God as a singular being, what makes us think there’s a trinity? Isn’t this a contradiction? The Scripture actually refers to God frequently as a singular/plural being. It uses a word that refers to “plural gods”, or multiple people, but uses this complex word as a singular.
That word is Elohim. The term Elohim is a plural version of God, and was a word that was likely used by numerous ancient cultures. In the Hebrew use of Elohim, however, it is used to refer to a single spiritual unit. A single God. Here are some of the Scriptural examples of Elohim being used to describe God’s combined plurality and singularity:
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit” ~ Matthew 28:19
Here the Bible describes three different persons, but with equal weight and power.
“I and the Father are one.” ~ John 10:30
These were the words of Jesus, as He told the Jews at the Feast of the Dedication that His followers could not be snatched from His hand, because they could not be snatched from God’s hand. Here Jesus is conveying that the safety and security of the flock is the purpose of both the Father and Son, because they have unified nature and essence. They are one.
“All things have been handed over to Me by My Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father; nor does anyone know the Father except the Son, and anyone to whom the Son wills to reveal Him.” ~ Matthew 11:27
This claim over the divine will, by Jesus, would have been stunningly blasphemous to the Jews at that time (and in general) if not for one thing. Jesus Christ is sovereign God Himself.
The Trinity Explained
So how does a both singular and plural understanding of the Godhead help us in describing God? What is the purpose of God having three different “selfs”? And why does it matter? Prolific author and theologian John Piper writes some intriguing stuff on explaining the trinity. He writes that “we (don’t) honor truth by ignorance of it. He does not think that increasing our knowledge decreases God’s mystery”. We ARE meant to know the trinity. That’s why God revealed it to us.
Words may not be sufficient to articulate the depth of the trinity, but the Bible has given us the tools to grasp it.
Here are some significant passages from the Bible that give us a window into the function and beauty of the trinity.
John chapter 1:1-5 begins to explain it this way. The Word (which John is actually using to refer to Jesus Himself) was in the beginning both with and part of God.
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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it.~ John 1:1-5
Jesus IS the Word!
And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us; and we saw His glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. John testified about Him and called out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who is coming after me has proved to be my superior, because He existed before me.’”” ~ John 1:14-15
Jesus did not come into being when He came down to earth. He has always existed, with God, and as God.
Humankind Is An Image Of The Trinity
What in the world does that mean? You may have heard before that God created humankind in His image. What you may not realize, though, is that this makes humankind a reflection of the trinity!
God said that He would “create man in Our image”, as opposed to “My image”. Read it here!
Then God said, “Let Us make mankind in Our image, according to Our likeness; and let them rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over the livestock and over all the earth, and over every crawling thing that crawls on the earth.” ~ Genesis 1:26
This passage is the very first reference to the trinity in the Bible. God created man in the image of the Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit, in order for man to fully reflect God’s image.
Man reflects the trinity because man is a threefold being.
- Jesus was the bodily form of God, so that He could dwell among us and share our human experience.
- Our physical bodies reflect Jesus, share His struggles, and represent His part of the trinity.
- Like Christ, our body interacts with the tangible world.
- Our body also has its own desires, as even Christ did. Take a look at this Q&A on Billy Graham’s site to read about how Christ dreaded the cross and even went reluctantly (though joyfully) as His flesh warred against His purpose.
- Though we have physical bodies, we are directed by our soul.
- God the Father, as you can read in the first few chapters of Genesis, created all things and imbues us with a soul. When Ephesians 4:6 says that He is the “Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” it is describing God the Father’s unique role. Though He is spiritual father only to believers, He is a father to all of creation as its creator. We know God with our souls and it’s our souls that reflect Him so deeply.
- Our souls are who we are. It is more, even, than our intellect. It’s like our “True Name”.
- God is the ultimate authority and decision maker over all things. Totally sovereign. You can read this in every inch of the Bible, but Psalms 103:19 and Romans 11:36 are perfect examples.
- Our spirits reflect the Holy Spirit, and He has lingered with us after Christ ascended to be with the Father to continue guiding, edifying, and shaping the church. The Holy Spirit helps give us understanding and discernment as we study the Bible. We are NOT necessarily going to hear the Holy Spirit telling us things, or giving us divine words in our ears (if you want to hear the voice of God, just read the Bible out loud), but He does aid our growth by illuminating the Word of God.
- The Holy Spirit gives us the will to act, and inspires us to speak truth, as described in 2 Peter 1:19-21.
- The Holy Spirit also connects us with God as we share His spirit. Check it out!
Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living person – Genesis 2:7 .
- This is crucial because the formation of spirit and soul is what makes us so like God, and gives us such connection to Him. No other creation but humankind shares this connection with God. No animal or other being was given this same “breath of life”.
No other being exists in this way, but God is three distinct beings, with different roles, in the same person.
Why does understanding the Trinity Matter?
So why does the trinity matter? God is Love because of the trinity. We are saved because of the trinity. He approaches and connects with us in many beautiful ways purely because of the trinity. The trinity is truth. The trinity IS God, and without the three persons we do not fully know the whole person who is God at all.
Yes; the trinity matters because the trinity is our complete God. It’s not fractions that love us, but the whole person. Not fractions that we worship, but the whole person. All three persons have the total essence of God, and we choose to follow all three or we reject the true God!
Be encouraged! Not only do the three persons of the trinity work in total unity (they don’t just agree a lot – they share the same mind), but they work TOGETHER for our good, and only our good. There is no ulterior or sinister motive in the triune God. Only an endless love for us.
If you have questions on these life-altering truths, please feel free to ask us in the comments below!