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The Trinity

By Richard Gunther


(With acknowledgment to Ray Comfort, Josh McDowell and others)

   The world is full of mysteries!

   Take for example ‘gravity’. Here is a force which acts across any distance, through any substance, or any vacuum, and always behaves in measurable ways in relation to all qualities of mass. It is invisible, yet it holds the planets in orbit. It influences everything, yet we live most of our days forgetting it is there.

   When God created this majestic and awesome universe, he built into it many wonderful and mysterious things. Infinity is another of these unfathomable mysteries. To think, we could travel in a straight line away from planet Earth, and speed at many times the speed of light along that line, and never reach the end of space! Just thinking about something which goes on and on for ever is enough to make our brain hurt.

   Modern science has given names to many of the mysteries it has discovered, but we must never forget that naming something is not the same as understanding it. As C.A.Coulson said (‘Science and Christian Belief’ page 50) “Here we begin to see something about scientific law which was not sufficiently recognized until recently – that it is essentially a description of the results of observation.”

   On the other end of the scale, smallness is also infinite. It was once thought that the atom was the smallest indivisible piece of matter. In fact when I was at school this was part of the teaching in science, and we heard of some Greek thinker who coined the word ‘atomis’, and it seemed quite reasonable that everything was made of some unimaginably small particle, but since then sub-atomic particles have been discovered. In fact so many of these insubstantial charges of energy have been discovered some scientists are beginning to admit that there does not seem to be an end to them.

    I have a poster on my wall, a big, beautiful picture of a little boy, walking on a beach. He is obviously happy. His little legs are swinging along. He can probably hear the waves breaking, the seagulls calling. The sand under his feet is soft. His world is big, and wide and happy. The boy is enjoying life, yet he has no idea how large the ocean is, or how deep. He does not understand how his brain works, or why salt tastes salty. He himself is a wondrous mystery, and he lives in a world of mysteries.

   Along with gravity, atoms, infinity (of largeness and smallness), we could add many more mysteries. How do we explain the sovereignty of God and the freewill of Man? How do we explain light? Where does life come from? When we look at the Biblical account of Jesus we come up against the mystery of his incarnation, his miracles, and his death. How did Jesus take all the sins of the world? How did he accomplish his own resurrection? All the science and theology and philosophy in the world falls short of understanding these things, yet we believe that they happened.

   A very simple illustration of Man’s ignorance is found in the story of the ants. They were busy marching across the land, quite oblivious to a cliff some way ahead. A child saw the danger for the ants and tried to warn them, first by shouting, then by signposts, but the ants didn’t speak or read English, so the child magically changed into an ant and spoke in ant language. The ants understood the message, but they never understood the magic.

   It is much the same when we come to the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity. It is a message which God has clearly declared to us in His Word, but though we may understand it as a message, we can never understand it the way God does. He has used ‘ant language’ to convey the truth to us, but now God has returned to his normal domain, heaven, and we have been left with the message. We can.

   The following is a very brief, and simple outline of the Bible teaching on the Trinity. Readers who want a deeper study will find in it any number of theological works which are readily available elsewhere.

   The Trinity is a basic doctrine of orthodox Christianity. It is held by what are called ‘Mainline’ churches, such as Presbyterians, Methodists, Anglicans, Brethren, Episcopalians, Assemblies of God, and branches or offshoots of these mainline, Protestant churches. It is not held by any of the cults. Yet the word "Trinity" is not found anywhere in the Bible. Is the doctrine of the Trinity really Biblical?

    Because of opposition to the doctrine, and also a need to know precisely what one must believe, many Bible scholars have taken great pains to put down in words an exact definition. The following simple definition covers the subject quite well: the doctrine of the Trinity says that there is one God who exists eternally as three distinct persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

   As an example of how a cult denies this, the Jehovah’s Witnesses say “The trinity doctrine was not conceived by Jesus or the early Christians . . .the plain truth is that this is another of Satan’s attempts to keep the God-fearing person from learning the truth of Jehovah and His Son Jesus Christ”. (Watchtower magazine).

   The first plank of the Trinitarian platform is that there is only one God. The Bible could not be more explicit on this point, which it states repeatedly. For example in Isaiah 44:8 God says that even He does not know of any other gods! If God, in His infinite wisdom, does not know of any rivals, or similar deities, who does Man think he is coming up with them?!

   It is on this very point that the JWs fall. They interpret John 1:1 to read in such a way as to present God (Jehovah) and god (the Son), which means that there is a big God and a little god, i.e.TWO gods. It is unthinkable that God would tolerate a rival, even one which the JWs say He created, so Jesus must be God – otherwise Jehovah would thunder against him.

   Jesus often spoke of God as His Father, and the apostles frequently spoke of "God the Father." But the New Testament also insists that Jesus is God. For example, Thomas acknowledged Jesus as, "My Lord and my God" (John 20:28), and both Peter and Paul spoke of Jesus as "our God and Savior" (2 Pet. 1:1; Tit. 2:13). An even more remarkable example is the matching together of the two areas of Scripture, beginning with Isaiah 6 where Isaiah saw the Lord (Jehovah) and then this passage is applied to Jesus, in John 12. Yet the New Testament also makes the distinction between the Father and the Son as two very different persons. In fact they tell us that they love one another, speak to each other, and seek to glorify each other (e.g., John 17: 1-26).

   Jesus claimed to be God many times. For example in John 8:58 the religious leaders asked him who he thought he was. Jesus replied “Before Abraham was, I Am.” The religious leaders knew exactly what Jesus was saying. That is why they took up stones to kill him! This statement by Jesus refers us back to the time when God revealed himself to Moses, in the burning bush. God (Jehovah – the One and only True God) told Moses that His Name was “IAM THAT I AM”.

   To see the extent to which some try to avoid this plain and obvious statement by Jesus, look at the JWs treatment of John 8:58. Their ‘New World Translation’ mistranslates the verse by making it read: “Before Abraham came into existence I have been”. In their 1950 edition they add the footnote: “I have been” -‘ego eimo’ – after the aorist clause and hence properly rendered in the perfect indefinite tense”. This Watchtower note was completely false, so, possibly because they knew their deliberate error was too obvious to avoid criticism, they subsequently changed it by dropping the word ‘indefinite’ (in 1969 in their ‘Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures’). This second modification made the error even worse. They went to such lengths against the proper use of the Greek language because they were more interested in teaching their views than taking the Scriptures as they were written.

   The Old Testament refers often to the Holy Spirit as God at work in the world, without distinction from the Father. But Jesus in John 14 to16 explained that the Father at Christ’s request would send this Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit would teach and guide the disciples, not speaking on His own initiative, but speaking on Christ's behalf and glorifying Christ. Thus, the Holy Spirit is revealed by Christ to be a third person distinct from the Father and distinct from the Son.

   Once again, although the Holy Spirit is a mystery, the teaching of the Bible is clear. Admittedly, it is always tempting to ‘dumb down’ a mystery, and make it more understandable to the fleshly or carnal mind, but when we do this we rob God of His glory. It is far better to accept the mystery by faith, despite the huge difficulties we may have with understanding it. Imagine how things would go if we applied this logic to other things? Would we refuse to believe that babies existed because we could not understand how fertilization worked? Would we reject a good meal because we could not understand digestion? Would we turn away from music because we didn’t understand how ears worked?

   God is a trinity of persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We may not understand this, but the Bible teaches it so that should be all we need to know. According to God’s Word the Father is not the same person as the Son; the Son is not the same person as the Holy Spirit; and the Holy Spirit is not the same person as the Father. They are distinct persons; yet, they are all The One God. They are in absolute perfect harmony consisting of one substance. They are coeternal, coequal, and copowerful. If any one of the three were removed, there would be no God.


   There are many very crude, very clumsy illustrations of this truth. One of them is the way water can exist as gas, liquid and solid and yet remain the same substance. Another is the fact that a solid object needs three dimensions to be a whole object. Another is the triquetra – a single line design which turns in on itself three times like road. Another is the three-leafed clover which grows from one stem.  Or a man with three faces. Or a woman with three jobs each with its own specific uniform.

   So it is that God may manifest Himself one way and another, at times using different names, or appearing in different forms. A good example of this would be the baptism of Jesus. The Son was baptized, the Father spoke, and the Holy Spirit appeared in the form of a dove. There is, though, an apparent separation of some functions among the members of the Godhead. For example, the Father chooses who will be saved (Eph. 1:4); the Son redeems them (Eph. 1:7); and the Holy Spirit seals them, (Eph. 1:13).

   A further point of clarification is that God is not one person, the Father, with Jesus as a creation and the Holy Spirit as a force (Jehovah's Witnesses). Neither is He one person who took three consecutive forms, i.e., the Father, became the Son, who became the Holy Spirit. Nor is God the divine nature of the Son (where Jesus had a human nature perceived as the Son and a divine nature perceived as the Father (United Pentecostal). Nor is the Trinity an office held by three separate Gods (Mormonism). All these theories have been concocted because people cannot understand the mystery which the Bible teaches. In a similar way, children often come up with all sorts of completely silly theories about their world because they cannot understand it. (i.e. there really is a person inside the TV box, clouds are solid things which people can stand on, rain falls through holes in the sky, and dolls have to be put to bed at night or they won’t get a good sleep)

It has been interestingly said, “If you try to figure out the trinity you will lose your mind, if you deny the trinity you will lose your soul.”


   In short, the doctrine of the Trinity is completely and totally Biblical, and it is essential that all Christians give assent to this doctrine. It is not essential that they understand it. It is a doctrine which Christians must accept by faith, and confess by faith, because the Bible teaches it, just as a child must accept by faith that some important instruction by a parent must be obeyed, even if they don’t understand why. For example, a parent may tell a three-year old “Never poke a knife into the toaster. There is electricity in there and it will go up the knife and burn you!” The child cannot SEE electricity, and the toaster does not LOOK dangerous, yet the instructions are clear. In total ignorance the child obeys the parent’s instructions, and lives. The cult child would say “There is no such thing as electricity” and quite possibly die when the reality shot up the knife and through his body.


The Trinity at work in redemption

In every major phase of the redemption, each Person of the Godhead is directly involved. Their involvement in each successive phase may be set out as follows:


1.                      Incarnation. The Father incarnated the Son in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit (see Luke1: 35).

2.                      Baptism in the Jordan River. The Spirit descended on the Son, and the Father spoke His approval from heaven (see Matthew 3:14–17).

3.                      Public ministry. The Father anointed the Son with the Spirit (see Acts 10:38).

4.                      The crucifixion. Jesus offered Himself to the Father through the Spirit (see Hebrews 9:14).

5.                      The resurrection. The Father resurrected the Son by the Spirit (see Acts 2:32; Romans 1:4).

6.                      Pentecost. From the Father, the Son received the Spirit, whom He then poured out on His disciples (see Acts 2:33).


For serious students who don’t mind rustling through the pages of their Bibles for a while, here are some references to look up. Each heading gives the work of God, and the references show how the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are involved in each work.


Called God: Phil.1:2, / John 1:1,14, Col.2:9 / Acts 5:3,4

Creator: Is.64:8 / John 1:3, Col.1:15-17 / Job 33:4, 26:13

Resurrection: 1Thess.1:10 / john 2:19, 10:17 / Rom.8:11

Indwelling: 2Cor.6:16 / Col.1:27 / John 14:17

Everywhere: 1Kings8:27 / Matt.28:20 / Psalm 139 7-10

All-knowing: 1John 3:20 /John 16:30, 21:17 / 1Cor.2:10,11

Sanctifier: 1Thess.5:23 / Heb.2:11 / 1Pet.1:2

Life-giver: Gen.2:7, John 5:21 / John 1:3, 5:21 / 2Cor.3:6-8

Fellowship: 1John1:3 / 1Cor.1:9 / 2Cor.13:14. Phil.2:1

Eternal: Psalm 90:2 / Micah 5:1-2 / Rom.8:11, Heb.9:14

A will: Luke 22:42 / Luke 22:42 / 1Cor.12:11

Speaks: Matt.3:17, Luke 9:25 / Luke 5:20, 7-48 / Acts 8:29, 11:12, 13:2

Loves: John 3:16 / Eph.5:25 / Rom.15:30

Searches the heart: Jer.17:10 / Rev.2:23 / 1Cor.2:10

Eternal: Psalm 90:2 / Micah 5:1,2 / Rom.8:11, Heb.9:14


"I am the LORD, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God" (Isaiah 45:5).

The following is a brief list of Bible verses which show how the Trinity is revealed in different ways:

1)                    Who Indwells Believers?

The Father and the Son.

    “Jesus answered and said to him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him”. John 14:23

    The Holy Spirit and the Father.

“You are the temple of God, and the Spirit of God dwells in you. If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which {temple} you are”. 1Cor.3:16,17

   The Father

   “And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? for you are the temple of the living God; as God has said, I will dwell in them, and walk in {them}; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people”. {cf. Ex 29:45, Jer. 31:33, Ezek 37:27} 2 Corinthians 6:16

   The Father and the Holy Spirit.

   “If we love one another, God dwells in us, and his love is perfected in us.  Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.  And we have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son {to be} the Saviour of the world.  Whosoever shall confess that Jesus is the Son of God, God dwells in him, and he in God.  And we have known and believed the love that God has to us. God is love; and he that dwells in love dwells in God, and God in him”. 1 John 4:12-16.

   The Holy Spirit.

   “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;  {Even} the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it sees him not, neither knows him: but you know him; for he dwells with you, and shall be in you”. {cf. Jn 14:18 below} John 14:16-17

   The Holy Spirit.

   “But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his . . . But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwells in you”. {cf. Rom 8:10 below} Romans 8:9,11

   The Holy Spirit.

   “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God”. 1 Corinthians 2:12

   The Holy Spirit.

   “What? know you not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost {which is} in you, which ye have of God, and you are not your own?” {cf. to 1 Cor 3:16} 1 Corinthians 6:19

   The Son.

   “And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father”. Galatians 4:6

   The Holy Spirit.

   “And hereby we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit which he hath given us”. 1 John 3:24 . . .

   The Father and the Holy Spirit

   “Hereby know we that we dwell in him, and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit”. {cf. Neh 9:20, Jn 14:26, 15:26, 16:7-8,13-15, Rom 8:14, 2 Cor 13:14} 1 John 4:13

   The Son.

   “I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you”. {cf. Jn 14:16-17 above} John 14:18

   The Son and the Father

   “At that day you shall know that I {am} in my Father, and you in me, and I in you”.   John 14:20

   The Father and the Son.

   “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come to him, and make our abode with him”. John 14:23

   The Father and the Son.

   “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can you, except you abide in me”. John 15:4

   The Father and the Son.

   “I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one” John 17:23

   The Son and the Holy Spirit.

   “And if Christ {be} in you, the body {is} dead because of sin; but the Spirit {is} life because of righteousness”. {cf. Rom 8:9 above} Romans 8:10

   The Father.

   “And he that keeps his commandments dwells in him, and he in him . .”  1 John 3:24.

2) Who Raised Jesus From the Dead?

   The Father.

   “God the Father, who raised him from the dead”. {cf. 1 Thess 1:10} Galatians 1:1 . . .

   The Holy Spirit.

   ” . . . the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you” Romans 8:11 . . .

   The Son.

   “Jesus answered and said to them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up”. John 2:19

   The Son.

   “Therefore does my Father love me, because I lay down my life, that I might take it again.  No man takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This commandment have I received of my Father”. John 10:17-18

3) Who Searches Minds and Hearts?

   The Father.

   “I the Lord search the heart, {I} try the reins, even to give every man according to his ways, {and} according to the fruit of his doings”. Jeremiah 17:10

   The Holy Spirit.

   “But God has revealed them to us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searches all things, yea, the deep things of God. 1 Corinthians 2:10

   The Son.

   “I am he which searches the reins and hearts: and I will give to every one of you according to your works”. Revelation 2:23 . . .

4) Who Sanctifies Us?

   The Father.

   “And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly” 1 Thessalonians 5:23

   The Holy Spirit.

   “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the spirit”.1 Peter 1:2

   The Son.

   “Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate”. Hebrews 13:12

5) Who Gives Us Words to Speak?

   The Father.

   “But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what you shall speak.  For it is not you that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you. *MATTHEW 10:19-20

   The Holy Spirit.

   “But when they shall lead you, and deliver you up, take no thought beforehand what ye shall speak, neither do you premeditate: but whatever shall be given you in that hour, that speak: for it is not you that speak, but the Holy Ghost”. {cf. Lk 12:11-12, Jn. 14:26} Mark 13:11

   The Son.

   “Settle it therefore in your hearts, not to meditate before what you shall answer: For I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which all your adversaries shall not be able to gainsay nor resist”. Luke 21:14-15

6) Who Gave the New Covenant?

   The Father.

   “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, says the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, says the Lord: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. Jeremiah 31:33-34

   The Holy Spirit and the Father.

   “Whereof the Holy Ghost also is a witness to us: for after that he had said before,  This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more”. Hebrews 10:15-17

    The Son.

   “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant:. {cf. 8:1-13, 10:29, 13:20} Hebrews 12:24

7) Who is the Creator?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   Gen 1:1, Is 44:24, Acts 17:24, Eph 3:9 / Job 33:4 / Jn 1:3, Col 1:16, Heb 1:8,10

8) Who is Our Helper?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   Heb 13:6 / Rom 8:26 / Heb 4:16

9) Who Are We Baptized in the Name of?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

    Mt 28:19

10) Who Comforts Us?

   The Father the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   2 Cor 1:3-4 / Acts 9:31 / 2 Cor 1:5 {cf. Jn 16:7}

11) Who Gives us Peace?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   Phil 4:7, 1 Cor 14:33 / Gal 5:22 / Jn 14:27, Eph 2:14

12) Who Sends Out Christians?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   Mt 9:38 / Acts 13:4 / Mt 10:16, Mar 3:14, Jn 20:21

13) Who Calls Christians to Ministry?

   The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

   Rom 8:28-30, Gal 1:15 / Acts 13:2 / Rom 1:6

   In a roundabout sort of way the heresies and cults and false religions can be helpful to the truth-seeker in that they often state clearly the wrong views so well that one can then sort out the correct more easily. In a similar way it is easier to see stars when the sky is dark. For example, if one holds the Bible to be true, the more insistent someone is that reincarnation is true, the more likely it is that the Bible has some other view. This is because whatever God says in his Word is bound inevitably to be twisted or distorted by Satan or Mankind.  That has always been the way, ever since Satan took God’s clear command to Adam and Eve and added or subtracted something from it.


   All cults are perversions or distortions of Biblical Christianity, and as such they always reject the teachings of the Christian Church, as based on the Bible. The apostle Paul warned that there would be false Christs and false gospels: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ, and no wonder for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their deeds.” 2Cor. 11:13-15.


   Walter Martin gives us this definition:

   “A cult then, is a group of people polarized around someone’s interpretation of the Bible, and is characterized by major deviations from orthodox Christianity relative to the cardinal doctrines of the Christian faith, particularly the fact that God became Man in Jesus Christ.”


   When it comes to the tripersonal God, or the Triune God, we must accept what the Bible says, regardless of whether we can understand it. As Unger says, in his Bible Dictionary: “This doctrine is preeminently one of revelation. And while it brings before us one of the great mysteries of revelation, and transcends the finite comprehension, it is essential to the understanding of the Scriptures.” (page 1118) He goes on to say: “It is admitted by all who thoughtfully deal with this subject that the Scripture revelation here leads us into the presence of a deep mystery; and that all human attempts at expression are of necessity imperfect.”


   The fact is, nobody understands the Trinity. Even the use of the word “person” is clumsy and inexact. However, the glory of God depends on the truth, not as we would like it to be, but as God reveals it.


   Suppose you were a tiny caterpillar, crawling along the flat side of a single leaf, which was in fact one of many millions of leaves on an enormous tree. From the caterpillar’s point of view, the world would seem small and green. The caterpillar might be more intelligent than most, and with a little thought it might realize that the leaf it is on is part of a small group of leaves, all joined to a small branch by stems. But the caterpillar could never understand the whole tree, or where the tree grew in relation to the forest, the land, the planet, the solar system or the galaxy. The caterpillar’s brain is too small to comprehend much more than a leaf at a time.


   In the same way, God is so vast and majestic, so infinitely powerful, so awesomely glorious, absolutely perfect in every way, utterly righteousness . . . there is no language which can adequately describe him, and our brains and imaginations are too small to comprehend it all . . . . but the Bible tells us that God is a Trinity so that is what we must believe. We are still at the caterpillar stage, so let us settle for that, and not try to live as less than caterpillars.

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