Three Persons in One Being
Since Jesus and the Holy Spirit are divine persons distinct from God the Father, it is evident that the Godhead, though one and indivisible (Deut. 6:4), consists of three entities who can act separately. Objectors retort that the doctrine of the Trinity is merely inferential—that it is a rarefied philosophical interpretation of a few vague texts in the Bible. In reply, we admit that Scripture never uses the word "Trinity" or states as a proposition that God is a Triune Being. Nevertheless, several texts in both the Old and the New Testaments teach that the one God is a plurality of persons, some specifying the number as three.
The Trinity in the Old Testament
The very first chapter of the Bible plainly shows that the Godhead is plural.
And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.
23 Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from whence he was taken.
A text in Proverbs reveals that the second person of the Godhead is the Son of God.
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?
In a vision of God pleading with His people to repent, the prophet Isaiah acknowledges three persons in the Godhead.
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.
The speaker Himself must be God, for He has existed from the beginning, and from the beginning "there am I"—in other words, He has borne the name "I AM." Yet the speaker says that He is the associate of two other divine persons, the Lord God and the Spirit of God. "The Lord God" (Adonai Jehovah (1)) is evidently a title for God the Father. Since the speaker is separate from both the Father and the Spirit, He must be God the Son. A word for word translation of the last clause runs, "And now the Lord Jehovah has sent me, and His Spirit" (2). In other words, both the Son and the Spirit proceed from the Father. The prophecy foresees the Son's earthly ministry, which the Father would commission and the Spirit would assist and empower (3).
Even clearer is another prophecy of Isaiah.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
Although interpreted in another lesson as a series of titles descriptive of Jesus, the prophecy has two levels of meaning. The deeper level reveals His position in the Triune Godhead.
The KJV gives five titles, but the words "Wonderful, Counsellor" can be treated as components of a single title (4). The titles that the prophet assembles to identify the coming child are thus four in number. These four teach that God is one Being in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The one Being, the common ground of their existence, is "The mighty God." The Father is, straightforwardly enough, "The everlasting Father." The Son, who is also Christ, is "The Prince of Peace," an allusion to His future role as ruler of the earth. And the Holy Spirit is the "Wonderful, Counsellor." We saw earlier that Jesus named Him "another Comforter" (John 14:16). The Hebrew word "counselor" and the Greek word "comforter" hardly differ in meaning. The idea of helping is common to both. Indeed, either word may be translated "helper."
Why should this description of the Trinity appear in the child's name? Because the child's divine name is similar to a compound human name. For example, I am Ed Rickard. Ed is my personal name, and Rickard is my family name. In Jesus' compound name, the first three titles are His family name, for they identify the other two persons of the Trinity ("The everlasting Father" and "Wonderful, Counsellor") and reveal the common essence of all three persons ("The mighty God"). These three titles define the Godhead apart from Jesus Himself. The last title ("The Prince of Peace") is Jesus' personal name. The personal part also comes last in the compound names of many human languages, such as Chinese.
The Trinity in the New Testament
Several New Testament passages present a three-part formula treating Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as coequal persons. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says,
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.
1 Corinthians 12:4-6
The Lord is God the Son, and God is God the Father. Although Paul connects gifts with their source, the Holy Spirit (v. 4; also, 1 Cor. 12:7-11), he views "administrations" (better translated, "ministries" (5), signifying every labor for growth and good order in the church, which is Christ's body) as forms of service to Christ (v. 5). Yet he recognizes that "operations" ("the real effects Divinely produced" (6)) fall out according to the will of the Father, who is sovereign over all (v. 6).
A similar train of thought in another of Paul's epistles shows that the foregoing passage indeed teaches the Trinity.
4 There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling;
5 One Lord, one faith, one baptism,
6 One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.
Here we have the same progression—Spirit, Lord, and God. But Paul is now plainer. He makes the identity of the last person explicit, calling Him "Father." And he indicates that the Lord is the divine person uniquely involved in faith and baptism. Faith is "the faith of Jesus Christ" (Gal. 2:16), and baptism is the believer's testimony of identification with Christ in His death, burial, and resurrection (Rom. 6:3-5).
Paul's most forthright declaration of the Trinity concludes his second letter to the Corinthians.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.
2 Corinthians 13:14
Jesus Himself set forth the doctrine of the Trinity in terms leaving no alternative to the formulations later adopted by orthodox theology.
Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
This saying, called the Great Commission, entails two obligations that presume the Trinity.
- The church must recognize the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as three associated persons.
- The church must baptize in their name. All three must therefore participate in sanctioning the act and in receiving honor and glory from it. Since only God possesses ultimate authority, and since only God deserves honor and glory, we infer that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three divine persons. The requirement that both the baptizer and the baptized affirm the Trinity disqualifies any cult or sect with a deficient concept of God from performing valid Christian baptism.
Jesus' precise wording is easily overlooked. He says, "Baptizing them in the name [singular (7)] of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost." What name is common to all three if not "God"? The name of God represents everything that He is.
- His name is to be praised and worshiped (Psa. 111:9; 113:3; 115:1).
- His name is to be feared (Mal. 4:2; Deut. 28:58).
- His name has power (Acts 3:16; Prov. 18:10; Jer. 10:6).
If each person of the Godhead has a full complement of divine attributes, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit must be entirely coequal.