The Trinity


Because the word trinity is never found in the Bible some wonder about whether this is a biblical doctrine or not, but the absence of a term used to describe a doctrine does not necessarily mean the term is not biblical.

The goal is to investigate the facts of Scripture so one can see from the process of investigation presented in this study just what the Bible teaches us about how G-d exists. Historically, the church has believed that He exists in Holy Trinity or Triunity.

The ultimate issue as always is, does the biblical evidence support the doctrine of the Trinity or tri-personality of G-d? If biblical evidence supports it, we can know it is true. Comprehending it is another matter.

We should not be bothered by this fact. Why? Because G-d's Word tells us that we should expect His revelation, the revelation of an infinite, omniscient, all-wise Creator, to contain an infinite depth that corresponds to His infinite mind. In Isaiah, G-d tells us about this and says:

"For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Neither are your ways My ways,"declares the L-RD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways, And My thoughts than your thoughts" (Isaiah55:8-9).

Because of our limited capacity in this life, some of the revelations of G-d given to us in the Bible defy explanation and illustration. When seeking to explain those truths that fall into this category, our explanations and especially our attempts to illustrate them must of necessity fall short of our ability to clarify and comprehend them.

Does this mean a doctrine cannot be true simply because it defies our human imagination or ability to comprehend it? The answer is, of course not. It would be nothing short of human arrogance to say it was. The truth is, we must recognize our need to simply trust in G-d's special revelation to us, the Bible, and submit our minds to that teaching which is truly expressed in its pages. This does not mean we do not test the Scripture to make sure these things are truly taught, but once we are convinced that that is what the Bible says, we must lay hold of it by faith and wait on the eternal future for complete understanding.

Some critiques of the Trinitarian doctrine say that the Trinity is really teaching three G-ds, not one. They will say that G-d the Father, and G-d the Son, and G-d the Holy Spirit would make three G-ds, since the Father plus the Son plus the Holy Spirit would make three. But this is not a logical necessity. Instead of adding, why not multiply? One times one times one equals one. Why must addition be the criteria by which the doctrine is judged? It need not be. Rather, the doctrine should stand or fall based upon biblical revelation, not human logic. Nevertheless, let me draw an analogy from creation itself to illustrate the doctrine of the Trinity.

An Analogy of the Trinity

To continue with the observation about the trinitarian nature of creation, I would like to use 'time' to illustrate the Trinity. Is the "past" plus the "present" plus the"future" a total of three times? Not at all. It simply is a representation of three distinct aspects of the nature of time: past, present, and future. Likewise, the Father and the Son and Holy Spirit are not three separate beings or entities, but three distinct persons in the one nature of the G-dhead.

Historical Background

Though the Bible taught truth of the Triunity of G-d implicitly in both Older and Newer Testaments, the development and delineation of this doctrinewas brought about by the rise of heretical groups or teachers who eitherdenied the deity of HaMashiach or that of the Holy Spirit. This caused the early church to formally crystallize the doctrine of the Triunity.

Here are only a few of the earliest references to the creedal doctrine of the Trinity from the early Church:

The Didache (35-60): "baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

Irenaeus (115-190): "The Church . . . . [believes] in one God, the Father Almighty .. . and in one Christ Jesus, the Son of God . . . and in the Holy Spirit."

Tertullian (190-200): "Thus the connection of the Father in the Son, and of the Son in the Paraclete, produces three coherent Persons, who are yet distinct One from Another. These Three are one essence, not one Person."

While the term Trinity is never specifically used nor the doctrine explicitly explained in Scripture, it is nevertheless implicitly stated. The church councils, in their fight against heresy, were forced to think through what the Bible says about how G-d exists. The result was the doctrine of the Triunity, but let it be emphasized, the development of this doctrine was based on a careful study of Scripture.

Definition of the Trinity (Triunity) of G-d

Trinity: Webster's dictionary gives the following definition of trinity: "The union of three divine persons (or hypostases), the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, in one divinity, so that all the three are one G-d as to substance, butthree Persons (or hypostases as to individuality)." Synonyms sometimes used are triunity, trine, triality. The term "trinity" is formed from "tri," three,and "nity," unity. Triunity is a better term than "trinity" because it better expresses the idea of three in one. G-d is three in one. Hypostases is the plural of hypostasis which means "the substance, the underlying reality, or essence."

Person: In speaking of the Triunity, the term "person" is not used in same way it is in ordinary usage in which it means an identity completely distinct from other persons. Actually the word persons tends to detract from the unity of the Trinity. According to the teaching of Scripture, the three Persons are inseparable,interdependent, and eternally united in one Divine Being.

It is evident that the word "person" is not ideal for the purpose. Orthodox writers have struggled over this term. Some have opted for the term subsistence (the mode or quality of existence), hence, "G-d has three substances." Most have continued to use persons because we have not been able to find a better term.

Essence: In its theological usage, essence refers to "the intrinsic or indispensable, permanent, and inseparable qualities that characterize or identify the being of G-d." The words triunity and trinity are used to refer to the fact that the Bible speaks of one G-d, but attributes the characteristics of G-d to three Persons: Father, Son,and Holy Spirit.

The doctrine of the trinity states that there is one G-d who is one in essence or substance, but three in personality. This does not mean three independent G-ds existing as one, but three Persons who are co-equal, co-eternal, inseparable,interdependent, and eternally united in one absolute Divine Essence and Being.

The three Persons are the same in substance, i.e., in essence or in their essential nature, but distinct in subsistence which describes G-d's mode or quality of existence in three Persons. By mode of existence we do not mean one G-d acting in three different ways, but one Divine Being existing in three distinct Persons within one Divine Substance or Essence. Again, this is not exactly three individuals as we think of three personal individuals, but one Divine Being who acts and thinks as one within a three-fold personality. This is incomprehensible to our finite and limited minds, but it is the teaching of the Scripture. "In the Being of G-d there are not three individuals, but only three personal self distinctions within the one Divine Essence."

Biblical Support for the Trinity

Since the Trinity involves the key aspects of oneness and threeness, supportfor this doctrine will be dependent on the discovery of these two aspects in Scripture as it reveals how G-d exists.

Scriptures on the Oneness of G-d

Older Testament Scriptures

The SHEMA: Deuteronomy 6:4 "Hear, O Israel! The L-RD is our G-d, the LORD is one!"

Verse 4 is subject to various translations, though the statement is likely stressing the uniqueness of Yahweh and should be translated, "The L-RD is our G-d, the L-RD alone."

However, there is also a secondary emphasis--The Lord's indivisibility. This is apparent in most English translations. This confession clearly prepares the way forthe later revelation of the Trinity, but how? "G-d" (Elohim) is a plural word, andthe word one (the Hebrew, echad) refers to one in a collective sense. As such, it is used of the union of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:24) to describe two persons in one flesh. Further, it is used in a collective sense, like one cluster of grapes rather than in an absolute sense as in Numbers 13:23 when the spies brought back a single cluster of grapes.

There is a Hebrew word that does mean an absolute unity and that is yachid, which is found in many Scripture passages, the emphasis being on the meaning of "only."If Moses intended to teach G-d's absolute oneness as opposed to a compound unity, this would have been a far more appropriate word. In fact, Maimonides noted the strength of "yachid" and chose to use that word in his "Thirteen Articlesof Faith" in place of echad. However, Deuteronomy 6:4 (the Shema) does not use"yachid" in reference to G-d.

Is the Trinity "Not Jewish?" Not according to the Zohar!

"Hear, O Israel, Adonai Eloheinu Adonai is one. These three are one.How can the three Names be one? Only through the perception of faith;in the vision of the Holy Spirit, in the beholding of the hidden eye alone.. . . So it is with the mystery of the threefold Divine manifestations designated by Adonai Eloheinu Adonai--three modes which yet form one unity."

The above is taken from the Zohar, an ancient book of Jewish mysticism. The author of the Zohar sensed plurality in the Tetragrammaton (Yud Hay VavHay)and wrote:

"Come and see the mystery of the word YHVH: there are three steps, each existing by itself: nevertheless they are One, and so united that one cannot be separated from the other. The Ancient Holy One is revealed with three heads,which are united into one, and that head is three exalted. The Ancient One is described as being three: because the other lights emanating from him are included in the three. But how can three names be one? Are they really one because we call them one? How three can be one can only be known through the revelation of the Holy Spirit."

Ancient sages struggled with several portions of the Hebrew Scriptures and their implications vis--vis G-d's plurality. Rabbis who believed that each word of the Hebrew Scriptures, each letter, is G-d's revelation had to admit that G-d spoke to himself and referred to himself in the plural. How can that be, when we know there is only one G-d?

Scriptures Demonstrating
G-d, Who is One, is Also Three

Older Testament Scriptures

While there is no explicit statement in the Older Testament affirming the Triunity, we can confidently say that the Older Testament not only allowsfor the Triunity, but also implies that G-d is a triune Being in a number of ways:

(1) The name Elohim, translated G-d, is the plural form of El. While this is what is called a plural of plenitude pointing to the power and majesty of G-d, it certainly allows for the New Testament revelation of the Triunity of G-d.

The Name Elohim

It is generally agreed that Elohim is a plural noun having the masculine plural ending "im." The very word Elohim used of the true G-d in Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning G-d created the heavens and the earth," is also used in Exodus 20:3,"You shall have no other G-ds (Elohim) before Me," and in Deuteronomy 13:2,"...let us go after other G-ds (Elohim)..." While the use of the plural Elohim does not prove a Tri-unity, it certainly opens the door to a doctrine of plurality in the G-dhead since it is the word that is used of the one true G-d as well as for the many false gods.

Most Hebrew scholars recognize that the word Elohim, as it stands by itself, is a plural noun. Nevertheless, many wish to deny that it allows for any plurality in the G-dhead whatsoever. Their line of reasoning usually goes like this: When"Elohim" is used of the true G-d, it is followed by a singular verb; when it is used of false gods, it is followed by the plural verb.

However, there are exceptions in Scripture where the word is used of the true G-d and yet it is followed by a plural verb:

Genesis 20:13: "And it came to pass, when G-d (Elohim) caused me to wander[literally: They caused me to wander] from my father's house...

Genesis 35:7: "...because there G-d (Elohim) appeared unto him..." [Literally:They appeared unto him.]

2 Samuel 7:23: "...G-d (Elohim) went..." [Literally: They went.]

Psalm 58:12: "Surely He is G-d (Elohim) who judges...[Literally: They judge.]

There are many instances where G-d uses the plural pronoun to describe Himself(see Gen. 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8):

Genesis 1:26: Then G-d (Elohim) said,"Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness...."

Genesis 3:22: Then the L-rd G-d (YHVH Elohim) said, "Behold, the man has become like one of Us..."

Genesis 11:7: "Come, let Us go down, and there confuse their language..."

Isaiah 6:8: Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, "Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?"

Judaism today says that the plural "our" refers to G-d and the angels conferring together to create man. However, He could hardly have made reference to angels since man was created in the image of G-d and not of angels.

This last passage (Isaiah 6:8) would appear contradictory with the singular "I" and the plural "us" except as viewed as a plurality (us) in a unity (I).

As if to make the case for plurality even stronger, there are passages in the Hebrew Scriptures where the term Elohim is applied to two personalities in the same verse.One example is Psalm 45:7-8:

"Your throne, O G-d, is forever and ever;
A scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom.
You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
Therefore G-d, Your G-d, has anointed You
With the oil of gladness more than Your companions."

It should be noted that the first Elohim is being addressed and the second Elohim is the G-d of the first Elohim. And so G-d's G-d has anointed Him with the oil of gladness.

Another example is Hosea 1:7:

"Yet I will have mercy on the house of Judah, will save them by the LORD their G-d, and will not save them by bow, nor by sword or battle, by horses or horsemen."

The speaker is Elohim who says He will have mercy on the house of Judah and will save them by the instrumentality of YHVH, their Elohim. So Elohim number one will save Israel by means of Elohim number two.

Use of the Name Eloah

If the plural form Elohim was the only form available for a reference to G-d, then conceivably the argument might be made that the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures had no other alternative but to use the word Elohim for both the one true G-d and the many false gods. However, the singular form for Elohim (Eloah) exists and is used in such passages as Deuteronomy 32:15-17 and Habakkuk 3:3. This singular form could have easily been used consistently. Yet it is only used 250 times, while the plural form is used 2,500 times. The far greater use of the plural form again turns the argument in favor of plurality in the G-dhead rather than against it.

Plural Definitions of G-d

One point that also comes out of Hebrew is the fact that often nouns and adjectives used in speaking of G-d are plural. Some examples are as follows:

Ecclesiastes 12:1: "Remember now you creator..." [Literally: creators.]

Psalm 149:2: "Let Israel rejoice in their Maker." [Literally: makers.]

Joshua 24:19: "...holy G-d..." [Literally: holy G-ds.]

Isaiah 54:5: "For your Maker is your husband..." [Literally: makers, husbands.]

Everything we have said so far rests firmly on the Hebrew language of the Scriptures. If we are to base our theology on the Scriptures alone, we have to say that on the one hand they affirm G-d's unity, while at the same time they tend towards the concept of a compound unity allowing for a plurality in the G-dhead.

Several passages reveal a distinction of Persons within the G-dhead.

In Psalm 110:1, David demonstrates there is a distinction of Persons between "L-rd," the one speaking, and the one addressed called by David, "my L-rd." David was indicating the Messiah was no ordinary king, but his own L-rd, Adoni (my L-rd), one who was G-d Himself. So G-d the first Person addresses G-d the second Person. This is precisely Peter's point when He quotes this Psalm to show the resurrection of the Messiah was anticipated in the Older Testament.

The Redeemer (who must be divine, Isa. 7:14; 9:6) is distinguished from the L-rd(Isa. 59:20).

The L-rd is distinguished from the L-rd in Hosea 1:6-7. The one speaking here isYahweh, the L-rd, yet, note the statement in verse 7, "I will have compassion and deliver them by the L-rd their G-d."

The Spirit is distinguished from the L-rd in a number of passages (Isa. 48:16;59:21; 63:9-10).

In the Messianic prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, G-d made it clear that the One who would be born of the virgin would also be Immanuel, G-d with us.

Two other passages which imply the Trinity are Isaiah 48:16 and 61:1. InIsaiah 48:16 all three Persons are mentioned and yet seen as distinct from each other. See also Gen. 22:15-16.

Newer Testament Scriptures

The case for the Triunity of G-d is even stronger in the Newer Testament,also a Jewish book. Here it can be unequivocally demonstrated the Father isG-d, the Son is G-d, and the Holy Spirit is G-d. Furthermore, the NewerTestament teaches us that these three names are not synonymous, but speak of three distinct and equal Persons.

(1) The Father is called G-d (John 6:27; 20:17; 1 Cor. 8:6; Gal. 1:1; Eph.4:6; Phil. 2:11; 1 Pet. 1:2).

(2) Yeshua haMashiach, the Son is declared to be G-d. His deity isproven by the divine names given to Him, by His works that only G-d could do (upholding all things, Col. 1:17; creation, Col. 1:16, John 1:3; and future judgment, John 5:27), by His divine attributes (eternality, John 17:5;omnipresence, Matt. 28:20; omnipotence, Heb. 1:3; omniscience, Matt. 9:4),and by explicit statements declaring His deity (John 1:1; 20:28; Titus 2:13;Heb. 1:8).

(3) The Holy Spirit is recognized as G-d. By comparing Peter's comments in Acts 5:3 and 4, we see that in lying to the Holy Spirit (vs. 3), Ananias waslying to G-d (vs. 4). He has the attributes which only G-d can possess like omniscience (1 Cor. 2:10) and omnipresence (1 Cor. 6:19), and He regenerates people to new life (John 3:5-6, 8; Tit. 3:5), which must ofnecessity be a work of G-d for only G-d has the power of life. Finally, His deity is evident by the divine names used for the Spirit as "the Spirit of ourG-d," (1 Cor. 6:11), which should be understood as "the Spirit, who is our G-d."