Understanding the Trinity
Most of the religions of our day and most of the false cults of our day reject the plain teaching of the Trinity. They are all agreed that such a word is not found in the Bible and that such a doctrine is against reason.
We know that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. Neither is the word theocracy nor the word substitution or many other words that are widely used today in religious circles. We also know that the Bible does teach the doctrine of the Trinity in two ways: by asserting and implying the personality and Godhood of each of the three separately, and by mentioning the three together in such a way as to express their equal Deity. This we shall be proving in our present series of Bible studies.
For those who find the Trinity is too mysterious and against human reasoning I would ask them if there are no other mysterious subjects just as much believed in this scientific age. Take for instance the belief in God. Can the Trinity objectors comprehend the Divine essence? Can they tell how this Being exists who had no beginning? Can they explain how this Being is present alike in every place? Is not this beyond the power of reason to comprehend?
The question is, should we give up faith in God because in His nature He transcends our reason? Surely reason will acknowledge that an infinite being must know more than a finite being. Certainly reason has its own province, within which its services are indispensable. But if reason goes beyond its appointed province, and presumes to judge, and decide about matters too high in its apprehension, it soon discovers its own weakness and insufficiency.
We might say that reason reaches its results by the processes of logic, whereas faith is the organ by which truth deeper and more primary is discerned. It is the eye which sees truths beyond the knowledge of reason. Its convictions are intuitive because they come from the heart. The greatest truths, like the conception of God, are not deducible from reason, but are intuitive perceptions. Pascal has well said: "It has pleased God that Divine verities should not enter the heart through the understanding, but should enter the understanding through the heart."
The fact of the Trinity is illustrated in nature. Man is made up of body, soul and spirit. Electricity has light, feeling, and heat. An equilateral triangle has three equal angles and three equal sides. Of course these do not adequately illustrate the Trinity because God the Father is not a part of God, or the Son or the Holy Spirit a part of God. Each is fully God.
A better illustration may be found in the chemical formula H2O. When two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen are liquid, they are called water. When they are hot, they produce steam. When they are cold, they become ice. All forms are the same chemical formula, but are manifested in three different forms. God is one in essence but three in Person.
To use another illustration, we speak often of MANKIND. Suppose there were only three persons in the human race. All three would be mankind but three persons. In the Godhead there is only one GOD-KIND but there are three Persons. All three are God, but each has His own office and work.
One problem we have in speaking of God in three Persons is to properly define the word person. The ordinary usage of the word simply means a human being. But this is not the Bible usage of the word. A man may lose his arms, legs, eyes and hearing and still be a person. He is able to think, to feel, and to determine. These are the true marks of personality.
The one verse so often quoted by Jew and Gentile alike to contradict the Trinity is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-9: "Hear, O Israel, the LORD our God is ONE LORD; and thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all they might..."
The usual argument is that since God is one there can be no Trinity. The Hebrew word for one is 'echawd' and it means not one in isolation but one in unity. We find it in such verses as:
Genesis 2:24: "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be ONE flesh." They are one in unity not one in isolation. Do they become one person? No, but in a divine way they become ONE.
Genesis 11:6: "And the LORD said, Behold, the people is ONE, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." Again the word for one is a compound unity not a simple unity.
We find a similar use of the Greek word for one in the New Testament:
1 Corinthians 3:6-8: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth, and he that watereth are ONE; and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labor." The word one means one in unity.
1 Corinthians 12:13: "For by one Spirit are we all baptized into ONE body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into ONE Spirit." (See also Galatians 3:28).
Now compare this usage of the word one in John 17:22,23: "And the glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be ONE, even as we are ONE: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in ONE; and that they world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast love me."
I am sure this will help us to see the Bible usage of the word one in relation to God. He is One but He is also three-in-one.
Daniel Webster was once reproved by an agnostic because he believed so strongly in the Trinity of the Godhead. Webster's reply was: "I do not pretend to understand fully the arithmetic of Heaven now."
Actually this great doctrine can only be truly understood by those who are born again of the Spirit of God. It is only when the Spirit of God comes into the life of a person that he is given a discernment to understand the spiritual realities of life.
In 1 John 5:20 we read: "We know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ." First, we must know in order that we may know. God says here in effect, "We know that we know." We must first know Christ. Then He gives us an understanding to know these other truths.
It is impossible to explain to a man born blind the beautiful colours of the spectrum as seen in the rainbow. He lacks one important sense and nothing can be done about it. So it is with the non-believer who tries to understand the things that are found in the Word of God. True believers receive a new set of senses the moment they are born again; senses that the ordinary person does not have and which cannot be procured by a college education or a D.D. degree but only through a miracle of God.
We should not be alarmed when attacks are made on the heart of the Christian faith concerning the Deity of the three persons of the Godhead. We are told in 1 Corinthians 12:3: "Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost."
Again we read in 1 Corinthians 2:14: "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned."
The first important step in understanding the Trinity of the Godhead is to be born again by the Holy Spirit. When Nicodemus came to Jesus he said to Him: "Rabbi, WE KNOW that thou art a teacher come from God..." (John 3:2). As a religious man he knew many things. But when it came to the spiritual realities of eternal life Jesus had to say to him: "Art thou a master of Israel and KNOWEST NOT these things?" (John 3:10) No one can know spiritual realities until he is born again.
The Trinity in the Old Testament
One of the problems of believing in the Trinity is to try to understand it by analogy or comparison or by human reasoning rather than accepting it as it is so clearly taught in the Bible. It is not possible to use the finite to understand the infinite or to use the natural to describe the supernatural.
One example that has been set forth to help us understand the three-in-one truth of the Trinity may be illustrated by yourself at this moment. Hold up your hand and look at it. Between your eye and your hand there are three things which are one and which are three. They may be studied separately and it is impossible to have the one without the other. I refer to light and heat and air. Your eye can see your hand because of the light waves. Before you in the light that you see there is also air. This you can feel by blowing on your hand. There is also heat between you and your hand. This can be measured by a thermometer. Science can use any one of them apart from the others but they can never be totally separated. they are three—and they are one.
It is important to notice that the Bible speaks of these things in relation to God. God calls Himself light, heat, and air. "This then is the message which we have heard of him, and declare unto you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all" (1 John 1:5). "For our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). "God is a Spirit" (John 4:24) and the word for spirit is breath.
A rabbi friend once told me that the doctrine of the Trinity was found only in the New Testament and therefore belonged only to the Christians. But the fact is that God reveals Himself as a three-in-one God even in the Old Testament.
First, we think of the names for God. There are three primary names found in the Old Testament for God which is a Trinity in itself. They are Elohim, Jehovah, and Adonai. There are three compounds used with Elohim: El Shaddai, El elyon, and El Olam. There are also three compounds used with Jehovah: Jehovah Elohim, Adonai Jehovah, and Jehovah Sabaoth. Thus we find three groups of three each in these names of Deity.
The one name for Deity which presents the Trinity is Elohim. Instead of being used in the singular, as are the others, it is plural, but it is with a singular verb as in Genesis 1:1: "In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth."
The Bible teaches clearly that the three Persons of the Godhead all had a direct part in the creation of the World. In John 1:3 we read of the Word, the Lord Jesus: "All things were made by him; and without him was not anything made that was made." In Job 26:13 and Job 33:4 we read of the Holy Spirit's part in the creation: "By his Spirit he hath garnished the heavens." "The Spirit of God hath made me." The elementary rule of Geometry is that things equal to the same thing are equal to each other. There can be no doubt that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are One. They are God.
Again, after the fifth day's work, God said in Genesis 1:26: "Let US make man in OUR image." But the following verse says, "God created man in HIS own image." The word us certainly refers to other persons of the Godhead. The same truth is found in Genesis 11:7 at the tower of Babel, when God said, "Let US go down." Since there is no other God but Jehovah (Isaiah 43:10,11), not even a lesser mighty god as some cults affirm (Jehovah's Witnesses for example), there must be a unity in plurality and Substance or the passages are not meaningful. This is clear teaching on the Trinity.
Another example of the plain teaching of the Trinity is found in Isaiah's vision, Isaiah 6:3: "And one cried unto another, and said, Holy, holy, holy, is the LORD of hosts: the whole earth is full of his glory."
The inner part of the Jewish sanctuary was called the holy of holies, that is, the holy place of the Holy Ones. The number of these is here given as three. In verse 8 Isaiah heard the voice: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for US?" This is the same language of plurality, us representing the Trinity of the Godhead.
Especially should we notice the term in verse 3: "the LORD of hosts." This will certainly include God the Father. But in John 12:41 we are told it included Christ: "These things said Esaias, when he saw his (Christ's) glory and spake of him." So the Son is certainly included here according to the Bible. Now you may not believe the Bible but you cannot help but agree that the Bible includes the Son along with the Father in Isaiah 6:3. Now in Acts 28:25,26 we have evidence that there was also the presence of the Holy Spirit: "Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto your fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand..." These words found in Isaiah are declared by the Apostle Paul to have been spoken by the Holy Spirit. When Isaiah speaks of the Lord of Hosts he is referring to the Trinity.
There are also three distinct Persons set forth in other places in the Old Testament.
2 Samuel 23:2,3: "The Spirit of the LORD spake by me, and his word was in my tongue. The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God."
Isaiah 48:16: "Come ye near unto me, hear ye this; I have not spoken in secret from the beginning; from the time that it was, there am I: and now the Lord God, and his Spirit, hath sent me."
Isaiah 63:7-10: "I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses. For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour. In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old. But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them."
I am sure there is one fact upon which we are all agreed, that the Old Testament does teach the truth of the Trinity. Now we may not accept the Old Testament as God's Word and we may not wish to believe in the Trinity because of it being beyond human reasoning, but we must agree that the Bible teaches it. Our next study will show the plain teaching of the Trinity in the New Testament where we see it in all its fullness.
The Trinity in the New Testament
In approaching the theme of the Trinity, the believer may well be prepared to confront a deep mystery which, of necessity, is not explained to finite minds. Dr. Walter L. Wilson gives us this illustration to help us to understand it:
"There is one firm, but three officers: the president, the vice-president, and the treasurer. There are not three firms but just one firm, with one bank account, one charter, one advertising program, one building housing the firm, etc... Each officer, however, is an executive, separate from the other two. Those who call to see the firm may see any one of the three persons for all three work in unity and harmony."
The work each One in the Godhead does reveals that there are three distinct Persons. "The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world" (1 John 4:14). The Father who sent and the Son who came are separate Persons. "If I depart, I will send him [the Spirit] unto you" (John 16:7). The Son who sent and the Spirit who came are different Persons. The Father sent the Son to die. The Son went to the cross and died. The Spirit reveals Him to our hearts for "He shall glorify me" (John 16:14). The Father loved (John 3:16); the Son died (Romans 5:6:); the Spirit convicts and teaches (John 16:8-13).
The New Testament gives ample teaching on the reality of the Trinity. We have the Trinity set forth in Matthew 28:19: "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." It is most significant that the first public appearance of Christ was that of His baptism and the three Persons of the Godhead were present and identified. The Holy Spirit was seen to descend upon Christ in the form of a dove and the Father openly identified the Son saying: "This is my beloved Son" (Matthew 3:17). When baptism is administered it is to be done in the name (not names) of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit as the verse above teaches. The word name reveals the divine unity which exists in the Father, Son, and Spirit. The name is threefold.
Christ refers to the Trinity in John 14:16,17: "I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter...Even the Spirit of truth."
Paul speaks of the Trinity in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all." So there are distinctions in office, differences in administrations, and diversities of operation with the Trinity.
The benediction of 2 Corinthians 13:14 clearly presents the Trinity: "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen."
In Ephesians we have at least two references to the Trinity. "For through him [Christ] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father" (Ephesians 2:18). There is "one Spirit...one Lord...one God and Father of all" Ephesians 4:4-6).
In 1 Peter 1:2 we have the clear distinction given of the work of each person of the Trinity: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ."
We also read in 1 John 5:7: "For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one."
Now it is most interesting to observe the three Persons of the Godhead present in the important aspects of Christ's life.
WHEN CHRIST WAS BORN, OR AT THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST, WE SEE THE THREE PERSONS. Christ was born of a virgin, but was conceived by the Holy Spirit (Matthew 1:20-25), God was also present (Luke 2:13,14).
IN THE DEATH OF CHRIST WE SEE THE THREE PERSONS PRESENT. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son" (John 3:16). It was also written of the Father: "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all" (Romans 8:32). But we also hear the Son speaking of Himself: "No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself, I have power to lay it down" (John 10:18). But the Holy Spirit also had His part as set forth in Hebrews 9:14: "Christ...through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God."
THE TRINITY WAS ALSO PRESENT IN THE RESURRECTION. The Father raised up the Son from the dead as testified in Acts 2:24: "Whom God hath raised up." We also hear Christ say: "I have power to take it again" (John 10:18). Christ also said in John 2:19: "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." The Holy Spirit also was there: "Christ [was]...put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit" (1 Peter 3:18).
WE SEE ALL THREE PERSONS AT WORK IN RELATION TO SERVING THE LORD. The Father is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3:5,6: "Our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament." The Son is mentioned in 1 Timothy 1:12: "He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry." The Spirit is mentioned in Acts 20:28: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood."
AS BELIEVERS WE KNOW THE REALITY OF THE TRINITY IN OUR OWN LIVES. First, the Father: "One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and IN YOU ALL"(Ephesians 4:6). Then the Son: "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). And also the Holy Spirit: "Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you?" (1 Corinthians 6:19).
To sum it up, I would like to give you the words of Dr. Horrace Bushnell who writes:
"To hold this grand subtonic mystery, in the ring of whose deep reverberation we receive our heaviest impressions of God, as if it were only a thing just receivable, not profitable; a dead truth, not a living; a theologic article, wholly one side of the practical life; a truth so scholastic and subtle as to have in fact no relation to Christian experience; nothing, we are sure, can be less adequate than this, or bring a loss to religion that is more deplorable, unless it be a flat denial of the mystery itself. In this view we cannot but hope that what we have been able to say may have a certain value...preparing some to find how glorious and how blessed a gift to experience, how vast an opening of God to man, how powerful, transforming, transporting, this great mystery of God may be. We can wish the reader nothing more beatific in this life than to have found and fully brought into feeling the practical significance of this eternal act or fact of God, which we call the Christian Trinity. Nowhere else do the bonds of limitation burst away as here. Nowhere else does the soul launch upon immensity as here; nowhere fill her burning censer with the eternal fires of God, as when she sings,
'One inexplicably three,
One in simplest unity.'
(From New Englander, Vol. 12, Nov. 1854).
The Eternal Trinity
A dear rabbi friend once said to me: "But why do you believe in three? Why not seven?" I answered him: "God is revealed as existing in three persons—not in seven." Of course by using the word person we do not mean a human being. Rather, we are referring to One who has knowledge, feelings and will.
The fact of the Trinity is clearly found in the Bible as we have seen in our last three studies. It is not necessary for you to believe the Bible but it is necessary for you to believe that the Bible plainly teaches the Trinity.
We see a wonderful illustration in science. There are three basic things in the universe; no more, no less. They are space, matter, and time. This is a space universe. What is space? It is three dimensions; no more, no less; length, breadth, and height. Anything built in space must have those three dimensions. The so-called plane surface is a purely imaginary space object. Space is THREE in ONE. Length, breadth and height are not three things which space DOES but which space IS. So with the Trinity. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not three things which God does, but IS. Each is referred to as God, and while Three, they are yet One, even as the sun is light, heat, and power; yet one.
Now each person of the Godhead is presented in the scriptures as being Deity with the attributes and titles of Deity.
The Lord Jesus Christ
God calls Jesus "God." Hebrews 1:8: "But unto the Son he saith, They throne, O God, is for ever and ever." (See also Titus 2:13).
He is "the Lord from heaven." (1 Corinthians 15:47).
He is "God blessed forever" (Romans 9:5).
He is "The mighty God" (Isaiah 9:6).
He is "The true God" (1 John 5:20).
He is "over all, God blessed for ever" (Romans 9:5).
He is one with God. "I and my Father are one" (John 10:30,38).
He is "the brightness of his [God's] glory" (Hebrews 1:3). Also Philippians 2:6. He is equal with God. "...[he] said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God" (John 5:17-23).
He has the divine attributes: (1) ETERNAL "Before Abraham was, I AM" (John 8:56-58). Also John 1:1; Hebrews 1:8; Colossians 1:17; (2) OMNIPRESENT. "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20; Ephesians 1:23. (3) OMNIPOTENT. "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). Also Hebrews 1:3; John 5:21-23; Ephesians 1:20-23. (4) OMNISCIENT. "In whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3). Also John 2:24,25. (5) IMMUTABLE. "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever" (Hebrews 13:8).
Christ is associated with creation. "All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made" (John 1:3). Also Colossians 1:16.
He forgives sin. "...the Son of man hath power upon earth to forgive sins" (Luke 5:20-25).
He is the source of life. "In him was life; and the life was the light of men" (John 1:4,5).
He is the Judge of all "...the Father...hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22). Also 2 Timothy 4:1.
He raises the dead. "...The hour is coming and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God" (John 5:21,25).
He is worshipped as God. "...let all the angels of God worship him" (Hebrews 1:6). Also Philippians 2:10,11.
He is prayed to. "...Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59,60). Also 1 Corinthians 1:2.
He is God manifested in the flesh (1 Timothy 3:16; John 1:14).
In Him dwells the fullness of God. "...it pleased the Father that in him should all fullness dwell" (Colossians 1:19). Also Colossians 2:9.
Now you may not believe the Bible's testimony concerning the Deity of Christ, but you must surely see that the Bible teaches the Deity of Christ who has the attributes of God.
The Holy Spirit
The same can be said of the Holy Spirit.
He is eternal. Hebrews 9:14.
He is omnipresent. "Whither shall I go from thy spirit" (Psalm 139:7-10)?
He is omnipotent. "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest..." (Luke 1:35).
He is omniscient. "...for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God" (1 Corinthians 2:10,11). Also John 16:12,13.
He does the works of Deity: (1) CREATION. "The Spirit of God hath made me" (Job 33:4). Also Psalm 104:30. (2) IMPARTS LIFE. "It is the Spirit that quickeneth" (John 6:63). (3) INSPIRES PROPHECIES. "...holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:21).
His name is joined with God's "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6).
He is called God. "...why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost? ...thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God" (Acts 5:3,4).
Thus we see from the Bible that all three Persons of the Godhead are equal in glory, in power, and in characteristics (Deity). All three Persons have the unique attributes of God.
Of course our finite minds cannot conceive of the glorious mystery of the Trinity. Wesley once said: "Bring me a worm that can comprehend a man, and I will show you a man that can comprehend God."
One simple fact we must surely all agree upon is this: That while there are difficulties in mentally understanding the Trinity, the evidences of the Trinity of the Godhead are so striking and numerous that one cannot hold to the Scriptures and deny them.
The wonderful reality of it all is that this God loves you and He loves me and He loves everybody. God hates sin and God must deal with sin. But God loves sinners and His love is poured out upon a guilty world by the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on Calvary for our sin. His Cross-work is sufficient for the world, but is EFFICIENT only to those who personally receive Him as Saviour.
There are five parts to John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life."
Now four parts belong to God for they are His work: (1) For God so loved the world... (2) that He gave His only begotten Son... (3) should not perish... (4) but have everlasting life.
But although God has done His part and loved us and provided us a Saviour, He cannot take away our sin and keep us from Hell until WE DO OUR PART. What is our part? "That whosoever believeth in Him", that is, whosoever receives Christ as personal Saviour. Our part is to receive Christ.
God has done His part. God has done all that is required for our salvation. It is now our turn, our decision, our acceptance of this wonderful Saviour into our hearts. By faith today won't you bow before Christ who died for you and say from your heart:
"Into my heart, into my heart
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus.
Come in today, come in to stay,
Come into my heart, Lord Jesus."
Used with permission of The Peoples Gospel Hour, P.O. Box 1660, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 3A1 CANADA.
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