This is part one of a two part series on the Trinity.
- Part One: Unity has Plurality (Apr 16, 2018)
- Part Two: God’s Love as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Apr 23, 2018)
Selected references for God’s triune nature from the Old and New Testaments are provided at the end of this article.
Although the term “Trinity” does not appear in the Bible, the concept of God as triune is present within its text. The use of “Trinity” therefore does not represent the imposition of a foreign concept upon Scripture, but is rather an abbreviated way to faithfully refer to its overall teaching about God’s eternal nature.
Plurality Within Unity Is Not Illogical
Those who reject the Trinity as being illogical ought to seriously consider that they accept the principle that unity has plurality in other areas of life. For a helpful treatment about this point, the reader is referred to the essay, “God As Triune, Creator, Incarnate, Atoner,” by W.H.T. Gairdner (a.k.a. Temple Gairdner). It is available online in English, Arabic, and Urdu.
The Bible repeatedly emphasizes that there is only one God. It also indicates a threefold distinction with regard to both His attributes and activities. These divine self-revelations reveal to us that the oneness of God is a triune plurality. This triune nature of God is why Scripture can simultaneously attribute exclusively divine attributes and activities to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit such as Creation, authorship of Scripture, eternality, grace, love, etc. without contradicting the truth that God is one. Admittedly, the triune nature of God involves mystery and would require omniscience to fully comprehend it; nevertheless, the principle that unity has plurality is neither illogical nor beyond human experience. Embedded within the created order, this principle is one of the witnesses to “His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature [which are] clearly seen, being understood through what has been made” (Romans 1:20).
Let us now briefly consider two examples of plurality within unity from “what has been made.”
The Individual As An Example Of Plurality Within Unity
As humans we can recognize within ourselves distinctions of thought, word, and body. We nevertheless understand that each of us is an individual, not separate, multiple beings based on such distinctions. We also understand that any one of these distinctions can accurately represent our unity. This is no different in principle than the biblical witness that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God while maintaining that there is only one God. Because God’s nature is triune, each distinction can (and does!) accurately represent this unity.
Corroborating this point is that God created people in His image (Genesis 1:26-27). This passage teaches us—among other things—that valid analogies can be made between God and humans. This point eliminates the objections found in Islamic theology and elsewhere that it is impossible and unfitting to make any kind of comparison between God and humans. If we are created in God’s image and have plurality within unity, it should hardly surprise us that Scripture witnesses to God’s unity and triune plurality. We are therefore correct in concluding that the origin of plurality within unity is based in God’s nature—He is its source. Its presence in us is a reflection of being created in His image. In this way, by considering human individuality, which is part of “what has been made,” we “clearly see” that plurality within unity is one of the aspects of God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.”
The Family As An Example Of Plurality Within Unity
Another example of plurality within unity is the institution of family. The plurality of individuals within a family does not undermine its unity. In other words, multiple individuals in a family do not indicate multiple families but rather one family. Similarly, as we saw above regarding distinctions within an individual person, each family member can fully represent his family. This results in multiple individuals fully representing the same family, or unity. This is no different than the principle that we see in Scripture where it refers—whether explicitly or implicitly—to the Father as God, the Son as God, and the Holy Spirit as God without degenerating into tritheism, or a belief in three separate gods.
An extremely significant passage regarding the institution of family is found in Ephesians 3:14-15:
14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family [or the whole family] in heaven and on earth derives its name
This passage teaches that family has its origin in the Father, which is one of the distinctions within God’s triune nature. That family as one of the most fundamental examples of plurality within unity is completely in keeping with the fact that God Himself is the ultimate example of plurality within unity. If the common, misapplied math example of 1+1+1= 3 as an objection to the Trinity were applied to family, it would reduce family to the individual as its sole component. I have yet to meet anyone who objects to the Trinity, whether Muslim, Jehovah’s Witness, etc., who has ever consciously objected to or been bothered by the plurality contained within the unity of family, and who resorted to using misleading arguments against it. As with the individual, in the Father’s institution of family, which is part of “what has been made,” we “clearly see” that plurality within unity is one of the aspects of God’s “invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature.”
Conclusion To Part One
The belief in the Trinity is hardly an example of “blind faith” or the repackaging of pagan trilogies of gods. It is not, as many allege, the result of mistaken interpretations of the Bible which somehow became standardized as orthodoxy in the historic Christian Creeds and Councils. Belief in the Trinity—that is, the triune nature of God—is found in Scripture itself. All of the Bible’s pronouncements about God are trustworthy including Matthew 28:19 which tells us that His Name is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. It is this tri-unity that is directly related to the truth that “God is love” (1 John 4:8, 16).
Addendum: Selected Bible References For The Trinity (or, God’s Triune Nature)
Scripture often uses abbreviations and other names and titles for the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, such as “God” for “Father,” “Jesus” for “Son,” “Spirit” for “Holy Spirit,” et. al. This use of additional terminology does not undermine God’s eternal identity as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, but always presupposes it. Finally, although this list is not comprehensive, I have found it to be extremely helpful in my own reflections, studies, and teaching. May you be encouraged to develop your own list(s) of references from it (or supplement existing ones) as the Spirit teaches (1 Corinthians 2:13). He is the Spirit of truth who guides us into all truth (John 16:12-15) that we may correctly interpret Scripture which is the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). May the Psalmist’s prayer to God also be ours: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from your law” (Ps 119:18).
1) The Oneness Of God
Deuteronomy 6:4 (cf. Mark 12:29); Exodus 20:2-5a; (cf. Isaiah 42:8); Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 1 Kings 8:60; Psalm 83:18; Isaiah 43:11; 44:6,8; 45:5-6,14,18,21-22; 46:9; Hosea 13:4; Joel 2:27; Galatians 3:20, Ephesians 4:6; 1 Timothy 2:5; James 2:19
God is incomparable (which implies that He is the only God): Exodus 8:10; 9:14; Deuteronomy 33:26; 2 Samuel 7:22; 1 Chronicles 17:20; 2 Chronicles 14:11; Isaiah 48:11; Jeremiah 10:7; Revelation 15:4
The repeated prohibitions against idolatry and God’s rebukes against this sin also imply that there is only one God: Exodus 20:4-6 (Deuteronomy 5:8-10); Exodus 20:23; 23:13, 24, 32-33; 32 (entire chapter); 34:10-17; Leviticus 19:4; Numbers 25 (entire chapter); Deuteronomy 6:12-15; 7:16, 25-26; 8:19-20; 11:16-17, 28; 12:2-4, 29-31; 13 (Deuteronomy); 17:2-5; 18:20; 28:14; 29:16-21; 30:17-18; 31:16-18; 32:16-43; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:25; 1 Corinthians 10:14; 2 Corinthians 6:14-18; Galatians 5:19-20; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10; 1 John 5:21; Revelation 2:14-16, 20-23; 9:20
2) The Plurality Within God’s Nature
Matthew 28:19 (cf. Exodus 3:14; Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8); Genesis 1:26; 3:22; 11:6-7; Isaiah 6:8 (see also John 12:39-41 where Jesus is identified as the one whom Isaiah saw; Acts 28:25-27 where the Holy Spirit is identified as the author of Isaiah 6:9-10)
John 1:1-3 & Genesis 1:1-3; Isaiah 48:16; Isaiah 61:1 & Luke 4:17-18; Psalm 110:1 & Matthew 22:42-45; Psalm 45:6-7 & Hebrews 1:8-9; Proverbs 30:4; Isaiah 7:14 (note: Immanuel); Isaiah 9:6; John 5:22-23; 10:30; 14:8-11; 17:3; Psalm 51:10-11; Isaiah 63:10; Romans 8:9-11
Trinitarian groupings in the New Testament: Matthew 3:16-17 (cf. Mark 1:10-11; Luke 3:21-22); Luke 1:(30)-35; 10:21; John 3:34; 14:26; 15:26; 16:13-15; 20:21-22; Acts 7:55; Romans 1:1-4; 5:1-5; 8 (the entire chapter); 15:16; 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, 14-16; 1 Corinthians 6:11, 15. 19-20; 12:3-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; 3:3-4; 5:5-6; 13:14; Galatians 3:1-2, 5; 4:6; Ephesians 1:3, 12-14; 2:18, 20-22; 3:14-17; 4:4-6, 30-32; 5:18-20; Philippians 3:3; Colossians 1:6-8; 1 Thessalonians 1:3-5; 4:2, 8; 5:18-19; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Timothy 1:12-14; Titus 3:4-6; Hebrews 2:3-4; 6:4-6; Hebrews 9:14; 10:29-31; 1 Peter 1:2; 4:14; 2 Peter 1:17-21; 1 John 3:23-24; 4:2, 13-14; Jude 20-21; Revelation 1:4-6, 9-10; 2:27-29; 3:5-6, 12-13, 21-22; 14:12-13; 21:10, 14
God and “the angel [messenger] of the Lord”: Genesis 16:7-13 (Hagar); Genesis 22:15-18 (Abraham); Genesis 32:24-30 (Jacob); Exodus 3:1-6 (Moses); Judges 2:1-3 (Israelites); Judges 6:11-14 (Gideon); Judges 13:17-22 (Manoah, Samson’s father)
3) Like Characteristics and Activity
All are called God: Galatians 1:1; John 1:1; Acts 5:3-4
All are eternal (a unique characteristic of God): Psalm 90:2/Isaiah 63:16; Micah 5:2/Hebrews 7:3 Hebrews 9:14
All are the author of Scripture: Hebrews 1:1-2 (“Father” is implied when it states “His Son”; cf. John 12:50); John 1:1; 2 Peter 1:20-21 (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16)
All give life (God is the ultimate author of life); John 5:21; John 6:63
All are necessary for salvation (only God is the Savior from sin); John 6:65; Matthew 11:27 (cf. Luke 10:22); John 3:3,5; (cf. John 16:7-13; 1 Corinthians 12:13)
All called Paul into the ministry: Acts 13:2; Galatians 1:1
All are called Lord: Luke 10:21; Acts 10:36; 2 Corinthians 3:17
All are responsible for Creation: Hebrews 1:1-2 (“Father” is implied when it states “His Son”); Job 33:4 (Genesis 1:2; Psalm 33:6b; 104:30); Colossians 1:1-17 (cf. John 1:3; Psalm 33:6a)
All are sources of the love of God: 1 John 3:1; Romans 8:35; 15:30
All are sources of God’s grace: Romans 1:7 (cf. Romans 16:24); Revelation 1:4