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Question #290

What about the trinity?

Why do we refer to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a trinity when the Bible does not? Where did the word come from? Also in regards to Trinity, why do some refer to God as the 1st person in a trinity, Jesus as a 2nd Person in a trinity and the Holy Spirit as a 3rd person in a trinity when the bible doesn't? Just curious as to where these teachings come from.

The Answer:

This question cannot be adequately answered in a short space. Pages upon pages upon this subject fill various systematic theologies written by various authors. Nevertheless, we will do our best to set forth some basics that perhaps will help readers in their personal studies.

The term “Trinity” is not used in the scripture. In its Greek form it seems to have been used first by Theophilus of Antioch (d. 181 A.D.), and in its Latin form by Tertullian (d. ca. 220 A.D.). However, the belief in the Trinity is much older than that and finds its basis in Scripture.

Intimations in the Old Testament

1. Plural nouns are applied to God in Gen. 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:6, 7; 20:13; 48:15; Isa. 6:8. It is noteworthy that despite the fact that in Gen. 1:1, 26: 48:15, 16 the name for God is plural, the verb is in the singular. In Gen. 11:7 the verb “come” is really in the plural. It must, therefore, be addressed to at leas two others. It can hardly be the angels because God sends them but never acts in concert with them. Neither is Gen. 1:26 addressed to the angels because in the very next verse we are told that God created man in his own image.

2. Facts in the Testament in addition to the number of the verbs used intimate the doctrine of the Trinity.

a. Jehovah has a son. Ps. 2:7.

b. The Spirit is distinguished from God. Gen. 1:1; Gen. 6:3.

c. Special attention should be given to the Old Testament phrase, “the angel of Jehovah.” Strong says that it “seems in the Old Testament with hardly more than a single exception, to designate the pre-incarnate Logos, whose manifestation in angelic or human form foreshadowed His final coming in the flesh.” (The exception is Haggai 1:13 where Haggai himself is the “messenger” (same word as “angel”) of Jehovah. When deity appears on the earth as in the case of “the angel of Jehovah,” it is called a “theophany.”) The “angel of Jehovah” appeared to Hagar (Gen. 16:7-14), to Abraham (Gen. 22:11-18), to Jacob (Gen. 31:11, 13), to Moses (Ex. 3:2-5), to Israel (Ex. 14:19; cf. 23:20; 32:34), to Balaam (Num. 22:22-35), to Gideon (Judges 6:11-23), to Manoah (Judges 13:2-25), to David (1 Chron. 21:15-17), to Elijah (1 Kings 19:5-7); He slew 185,000 Syrians in one night (2 Kings 19:35); He stood among the myrtle trees in Zechariah’s vision (Zech. 1:11); and He defended Joshua the high priest against Satan (Zech. 3:1ff). In Gen. 18, one of the three men who appeared to Abraham is repeatedly represented as Jehovah (vv. 13, 17, 20, 22-33).

The Teaching of the New Testament

The doctrine of the Trinity is neither definitely nor definitively set forth in the New Testament; however, it is taught there in such unmistakable language that it can not be reasonably denied.

1. General statements and allusions.

a. The baptism of Christ. Jesus was present; the Spirit descended as a dove; A voice out of Heaven said “This is my beloved Son.” Matt. 3:16-17.

b. Jesus’ statement that he would pray the Father send another Comforter. John 14:16-17.

c. The command that the disciples baptize in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Matt. 28:19.

d. The way that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are associated in their work. 1 Cor. 12:4-6; 1 Pet. 1:2; 3:18.

e. The apostolic benediction. 2 Cor. 13:14.

2. Proof that there are Three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) who are recognized as God.

a. The Father is recognized as God. There are too many passages to list, but for examples see John 6:27; Rom. 1:7 ff; Gal. 1:1, 3, ff.

b. The Son is recognized as God. Jesus does not sustain the same relationship to Christianity that founders of other religions sustain to the faiths that they established. Buddha (B.C. 563-484), Confucius (B.C. 551-479), Mohammed (A.D 570(?)-632) are significant primarily for their teaching; Christ is significant primarily for his Person. He is central to Christianity. Jesus conceived of himself in this manner. Jesus asked, “What think ye of Christ?” >att. 22:41-46; Mark 12:37-37; Luke 20:41-44. He had earlier asked his disciples, “Whom say ye that I am?” Matt. 16:15. Was he merely the greatest, the holiest, the most perfect exhibition of the godlike in humanity? The Scripture writers surely represent Him as all this and much more.

i. The attributes of deity. There are five attributes of deity – eternity, omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, and immutability. Christ possesses them all.

a) He is eternal.

i). He was before Abraham (John 8:58) and before the world came into existence (John 15:5, 24).

ii). He is the firstborn of every creature (Col. 1:15), being in existence “in the beginning” (John 1:1; 1 John 1:1, and, in fact, “from the days of eternity’ (Micah 5:2, marginal reading).

iii) As to the future, he continues forever (Heb. 1:11; Isa 9:6; Rev. 1:11.

iv) The Father’s communication of life to Him is an eternal process (John 5:26; 1:4).

b). He is omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent.

i). He was in Heaven while on earth (John 3:13).

ii). He fills all (Eph. 1:23).

iii). He knows all things (John 16:30; 21:17).

iv). He knew what was in man (John 2:24-25).

v). He saw Nathanael under the fig tree (John 1:49(.

vi). He knew the history of the Samaritan woman (John 4:29).

vii). He knew the thought of men (Luke 6:8; cf. 11:17).

viii). He knew the time and manner of his exit out of the world (Matt. 16:21; John 12:33; 13:1).

ix). He knew who would betray him (John 6:66).

x). In him are all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden (Col. 2:3).

xi). He is the Almighty. Rev. 1:8.

xii). He upholds all things with the word of his power (Heb. 1:3).

xiii). He has all authority in Heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).

xiv). He had power over demons (Mark 5:11-15), disease (Luke 4:38-41), death (Matt. 9:25; Luke 7:14-15; John 11:43-44), the elements (Matt. 8:26-27), and nature (John 2:11; Matt. 21:19).

c). He is immutable (Heb. 1:12; 13:8).

ii. He holds the offices of Deity.

a). He is the Creator (Heb. 1:10; John 1:3; Col. 1:16).

b). He is the Upholder (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3).

iii. He exercises the prerogatives of Deity.

a). He forgives sins ( Matt. 9:2, 6; Luke 7:47-48; Mark 2:7).

b). He will raise the dead (John 20:25, 28; 6:39-40, 54; 11:25).

c). He will execute all judgment (John 5:22).

iv. He was identified with the Jehovah of the Old Testament. Things that are said of Jehovah in the Old Testament are said of Christ in the New Testament.

a). Creator (Psa. 102:24-27; Heb. 1:10-12).

b). Seen by Isaiah (Isa. 6:1; John 12:41).

c). Was to be preceded by a forerunner (Isa. 40:3; Matt. 3:3).

d). To be among God’s people (Num. 21:6-7; 1 Cor. 10:9).

e). To be sanctified (Isa. 8:13; 1 Pet. 3:15).

f). To lead captivity captive (Psa. 68:18; Eph. 4:7-8).

v. His names imply deity.

a). Metaphors that Jesus used of himself imply his supernatural character (John 6:41, cf. v. 50; John 10:9; 14:6; 15:5).

b). Designations that Jesus used of himself imply Deity ((Rev. 3:14; 22:13).

c). Matthew expressly applied the prediction of Isa. 7:14 to Christ concerning the one born of a virgin, including the name Immanuel (meaning “God with us”) by which the Son was to be known (Matt. 1:22-23).

d). The term “Word” or “Logos” is used to emphasize his Deity (John 1:1-5, 9-14; Rev. 19:13).

e). “Son of Man.” This was Jesus’ favorite name for himself. In all but one reference, Acts 7:56, he uses it of himself. While the name does not always clearly signify deity ((Matt. 8:20; 11:18-19; 17:12; Luke 9:44), it very often does. It was as the Son of Man that he had authority to forgive sins (Matt. 9:6), to interpret the Sabbath law (Matt. 12:18), and to execute judgment (John 5:27). It is as the Son of Man that he gives his life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28, that he will send his angels to gather out the tares (Matt. 13:41, that he will sit upon the throne of his glory (Matt. 19:28; 25:31), and that he will come again (Matt. 24:44; 26:64). In these instances the term clearly denotes Deity.

f). “Lord.” This term is used in four different senses: 1) of God the Father (Matt. 4:7; 11:25; Luke 2:33; 5:17: Acts 17:24; Rom. 4:8; 2 Cor. 6:17-18; Rev. 4:8); 2) as a title of courtesy (Matt. 13:27; 21:30; 27:63; Luke 13:8; John 12:21); 3) as a name for a master or owner (Matt. 20:8; Luke 12:46; John 15:15); and as a title of address to, or as a name for, Christ (Matt. 7:22, 28; 82; 14:28; etc.) While all who used the term for Jesus may; not have considered him as deity, in some instances there can be no doubt that this was the case (Matt. 7:21-22; 22:43-44; Luke 1:43; 2:11; John 20:28; Acts 16:31; 1 Cor. 12:3; Phil. 2:11). Paul insisted that men confess Jesus as Lord (Acts 16:31; Rom. 10:9; Phil. 2:11).

g). “Son of God.” This term is not used by Jesus of himself in the synoptic gospels, but one such use is record in John (10:36, cf. v. 33). It is applied to him by others and he accepts it in a manner that asserts his name to it (John 5:18; 10:33, 36). This is also implied in John 3:16, 18. As the Son of God he is said to execute all judgment (John 5:22) to have life in himself and to quicken whom he will (John 5:21, 26) and to give eternal life (John 10:10). It is the Father’s will that all should honor the Son even as they do the Father (John 5:23).

h). “God.” Jesus is called “God” seven times in the New Testament (John 1:1 [very emphatic]; John 1:18 [in some later translations (e.g, NIV, ESV) and critical texts [e.g. Westcott and Hort] the text reads “the only begotten God” or similarly; he is not only the only begotten Son (John 3:16), but the only begotten God.]) John 20:28; Titus 2:13 [It is disputed whether Titus 2:13 refers to one person, thus calling Christ God, or to two persons, God and our Savior Jesus Christ. It really makes no difference because it is clear in other passages that Jesus is called God. For a good statement of the dispute see “The New American Commentary” vol. 34, pp. 311-314; it concludes that the arguments for applying “God” to Jesus are convincing.]; Heb. 1:8; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20; and 1 Tim. 3:16.

vi. Certain relations prove his deity.

a). The Father and He are put side by side with each other and the Holy Spirit in the baptismal formula (Matt. 28:19; cf. Acts 2:38; Rom. 6:3) and in the apostolic benediction 2 Cor. 13:14; cf. 1 Cor. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; etc.).

b). He is the effulgence (Heb. 1:3) and image of god (Col. 1:15), and all the fullness of the godhead dwells in Him bodily (Col. 2:9).

c). He and the Father are one (John 17:11).

d). He and the Father act together. (John 14:23; 2 Thess. 2:16-17).

e). We sustain the same relationship to the Father and the Son. (Eph. 5:5; Rev. 20:6).

f). Whatever the Father has is also Christ’s (John 16:15; 17:10).

vii. Divine worship is rendered to and accepted by him (Luke 5:8; Matt. 14:33; 15:25; 28:9; 1 Cor. 1:2).

a). Both the Old testament (Ex. 34:14) and Christ himself (Matt. 4:10) declare that God only is to be worshipped, and both ordinary men and angels effused worship that was offered to them (Acts 10:25-26; Rev. 19:10; 22:8-9), for Christ to accept it would have been blasphemy if he were not God.

b). The Scriptures do not merely inform us that Christ was worshipped, but ask us to worship Him (John 5:23; Heb. 1:6). If he is not God, He is a deceiver or is self-deceived, and, in either case, if he is not God he is not good.

viii. Christ’s own consciousness and claims prove his deity.

a). At the age of 12 he recognized the peculiar claims of his Father, God (Luke 2:49-50).

b). At his baptism he was assured of his special Sonship (Matt. 3:17).

c). In the Sermon on the Mount he sets himself over against the ancients (Matt. 5:21-22, 27-28, etc.).

d). When he sent forth his disciples he gave them power to perform miracles (Matt. 10:1, 8; Luke 10:9, 19).

e). He asserted his pre-existence (John 8:58; 17:5).

f). He requested that prayer be offered in his name (John 16:23-24).

g). He claimed that he and the Father were one (John 10:30; 17:11; 14:9).

h). He claimed that he was the Son of God (John 10:36).

c. The Holy Spirit is also God.

i. The Holy Spirit is a Person.

a). Personal pronouns are used of him (John 14:17; 16:13; etc.). In the last reference the neuter substantive pneuma is referred to by the masculine pronoun ekeinos, recognizing the Spirit’s personality. The neuter “itself” in Rom. 8:16, 26 has, in the ASV, been properly changed to “himself.”

b). He personality is shown by his being the Comforter. The term occurs only in John 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7 of the Spirit. It is applied to Christ in John 14:16; 1 John 2:1 (Greek). Since it expresses personality when applied to Christ, it must do so also when applied to the Spirit.

c). Personal characteristics are applied to the Holy Spirit. He has three essential elements of personality.

i). He has intellect (1 Cor. 2:11).

ii). He has sensibilities (Rom. 8:27; 15:30).

iii). He has will (1 Cor. 12:11).

d). He performs personal acts.

i). He works (1 Cor. 12:11).

ii). He searches (1 Cor. 2:10).

iii). He speaks (Acts 13:2; Rev. 2:7).

iv). He testifies (John 15:26).

v). He teaches (John 14:26).

vi). He reproves (John 16:8-11).

vii). He regenerates (John 3:5).

viii). He prays (Rom. 8:26).

ix). He guides (John 16:13).

x). He call man into service (Acts 13:2).

xi). He guided Paul’s service (Acts 16:6-7).

e. His personality is established by his association with the Father and the Son (Matt. 28:19 – baptismal formula; 2 Cor. 13:14 – apostolic benediction; 1 Cor. 12:4-6 – his office as administrator of the church).

f. He is susceptible of personal treatment. A “thing” is not susceptible of being treated as a person.

i. He can be tried (Acts 5:9).

ii. He can be lied to (Acts 5:3).

iii. He can be grieved (Eph. 4:30; Isa. 63:10).

iv). He can be resisted (Acts 7:51).

v). He can be insulted or outraged(Heb. 10:29).

vi. He can be blasphemed (Matt. 12:31-32).

g. He is a divine person, i.e., he is God.

i. Attributes of deity are affirmed of him (eternity – Heb. 9:14; omniscience – 1 Cor. 2:10-11; John 14:26; 16:12-13); omnipotence – Luke 1:35; and omnipresence – Psalm 139:7-10).

j. Works of deity are ascribed to him (creation – Psalm 104:30; Gen. 1:2; Job 33:4; regeneration – John 3:5; inspiration of scriptures (2 Pet. 1:21; and the raising of the dead – Rom. 8:11).

k. The way in which he is associated with the Father and the Son proves his deity (baptismal formula – Matt. 28:10; apostolic benediction – 2 Cor. 13:14; and in the administration of the church – 1 Cor. 12:4-6).

l. The words and works of the Spirit are considered the words and works of God (See Isa. 6:8-10; Acts 28:25-27; Ex. 16:7; Psa. 95:8-11; Heb. 3:7-9; Gen. 1:27; Job 33:4).

m. He is expressly called God (Acts 5:3-4; cf. 2 Cor. 3:17-18 where the ASV reads “the Lord is the Spirit”). Some observations and deductions based on these observations:

1. The doctrine of the Trinity does not conflict the doctrine of the unity of God. There are three persons, or personalities, in one essence.

2. These distinctions are eternal. This is evident from the passages that assert or imply Christ’s existence with the Father from eternity (John 1:1-2; Phil. 2:6; John 17:5, 24), and from those that assert or imply the eternity of the Holy Spirit (Gen. 1:2; Heb. 9:14).

3. The three are equal. And yet this does not exclude the arrangement by means of which the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third. This is not a difference in glory, power, or length of existence, but simply one of order. While some acts are predicated of all three, there are certain acts that are predominately referred to the Father (Creation, election, and calling), others to the Son ((redemption), and others to the spirit (sanctification). Then there are certain acts that are never predicated of the others. Thus, generation belongs exclusively to the Father, filiation to the Son, and procession to the Spirit. This is the form in which the doctrine has been espoused.


Many books have been written on this subject. Some shed light; others create confusion. Systematic theologies are filled with pages drawing out and explaining the doctrine, some well and others poorly. This writing is not intended to be and is not exhaustive, nor is it intended to delve into the theological language that pervades the theological writings. Hopefully it will set forth some of the passages upon which the doctrine is based which in turn can be used for further study.

God's Plan of Salvation

You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)

You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)

You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)

You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)

Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!

Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)