(Adapted from Consider Christianity: Evidence for the Bible by Elgin L. Hushbeck, Jr.)
One of the foundational beliefs of any religion is its beliefs about God. Christianity declares that God does exist, that He created the universe, and that He continues to interact with His creation today. Through revelation, God has shown Himself to exist as what has historically come to be called the Trinity. (1)
The Doctrine of the Trinity teaches that there is only one God, but that within the nature of the one God there exist three distinct, separate, and equal persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. While there is no single verse that states "God exists as the Trinity," the doctrine is clearly taught. The Trinity is the only explanation that takes into account all of the teachings of the Bible concerning God. Put simply, if the Bible states that there are three separate persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, that each of these persons is God, and that there is only one God, what explanation would fit other than the doctrine of the Trinity? Few would disagree with the fact that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three separate persons. (2)
Matthew demonstrates this quite clearly in his description of the baptism of Jesus. Just after John the Baptist baptized Jesus in the river Jordan, the Father spoke from heaven saying, "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." At the same time, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus "like a dove" (Matthew 3:16-17). We can see in this account that all three persons of the Trinity are mentioned as being in different locations at the same time, demonstrating that they are three separate persons. When Jesus stated that His will was in subjection to the will of His Father (Luke 22:42), He demonstrated the existence of two separate wills, and therefore, two separate persons. In John 8:17-18 Jesus said that he and his Father were two witnesses. Also, unless you believe that Jesus was praying to himself, the prayers of Jesus to the Father (John 17) demonstrate that Jesus and the Father are different persons.
That the Father is God is clearly and directly stated in, for example, Peter's use of the phrase "God the Father" (2 Peter 1:17). The deity of Jesus Christ is also an inescapable teaching of the Bible. John opens his gospel with his description of the Word, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." (John 1:1). John goes on to identify the Word as Jesus Christ (John 1:14-15, 30-31).
Jesus is not only God, but He is the God of the Old Testament. When Moses was on Mount Sinai, he asked God what His name was so he would be able to say who had sent him to free the Israelites. God answered by saying "I AM WHO I AM," and told Moses to say that "I AM" had sent him (Exodus 3:14). In the book of Isaiah, and especially chapters 40-55, God refers to himself as "I AM HE" (see for example Isaiah 43:10). When these passages were later translated into Greek (the language of the New Testament) they were translated as the Greek words EGO EIMI, which also means "I AM". One day Jesus had a dispute in the temple with the Jewish leaders who were pointing out that they were children of Abraham. They asked him, "Who do you think you are?" Jesus told them "I tell you the truth, before Abraham was born, I AM" (John 8:53-58). Here Jesus referred to himself as EGO EIMI (I AM), exactly the same Greek words used by God in the Greek version of Isaiah. At that point the Jewish leaders picked up stones to kill Jesus. There are only two choices: either they wanted to stone Jesus for improper grammar (I AM instead of I WAS), or because he was claiming to be I AM, the God who had appeared to Moses and Isaiah.
During another dispute in the temple, the Jews once again picked up stones to kill Jesus. But Jesus stopped them, asking, "I have shown you many great miracles from the Father. For which of these do you stone me?" The Jews replied that they were not going to stone him for any of the works that Jesus had performed. They were going to stone him "because you, a mere man, claim to be God" (John 10:31-33). Clearly the Jews understood the claims that Jesus made about himself.
There are at least eight passages in the New Testament in which the deity of Jesus Christ seems to be directly stated. (3) Paul wrote to Titus, a disciple he had left on the island of Crete to organize a church: "We wait for the blessed hope - the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). In the book of Hebrews, God the Father says of His Son "Your throne, O God, will last forever and ever" (Hebrews 1:8). The Bible teaches that Jesus is God the Son.
Although the deity of the Holy Spirit is not expressed as often as the deity of Jesus Christ, it is still clearly set forth. In the book of Acts, Luke describes for us the situation in the early Church. In one instance two converts, Ananias and Sapphira, attempted to deceive the church. Peter confronted them saying, "You have lied to the Holy Spirit. . . You have not lied to men but to God" (Acts 5:1-4).
The Bible teaches three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, are God. Normally, this would lead us to conclude that the Bible teaches polytheism, the belief in many gods. This is what Mormons have concluded, for they believe that there are three gods. (4) The Bible, however, teaches that there is only one God. That the Old Testament teaches there is only one God can hardly be questioned. One of the distinguishing marks of the Jewish religion is its strict monotheism. This strict monotheism is carried into the New Testament as well. Jesus referred to the "praise that comes from the only God" (John 5:44), while Paul stated: "We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one" (1 Corinthians 8:4). James said of the belief in one God that "Even the demons believe that - and shudder" (James 2:19).
The main problem with the Trinity is that it is understandably difficult to comprehend because it is beyond our realm of experience. Because of this, many analogies are used to help understand the Trinity. One analogy I often use is that of lines in different dimensions. In a one dimensional universe only length would exist. The only types of objects that could exist (besides a single point) would be lines. There would be no such thing as a two-lined object, because if two lines are joined, they simply become a single, longer line. In a one dimensional universe, the number of lines equals the number of objects. If we add a second dimension (width), lines can now be joined at angles to make objects other than just lines. For example, three lines could be joined end to end to create a triangle. A triangle is a single object that is made up of three distinct lines. From a one dimensional point of view, this makes no sense. It is impossible for three lines to be in a single object and still be three separate lines. From a two dimensional point of view, three separate lines and one object is no problem at all. When this concept is applied to our understanding of the Trinity we see that while to us the concept of three separate persons existing as a single God may seem impossible, when it is realized that God is not limited to our 3-dimensional world, it no longer seems improbable.
Some people have told me that the doctrine of the Trinity only proves that the Bible contradicts itself. To them, the doctrine of the Trinity is simply the result of theologians trying to reconcile those contradictions. This argument might have some validity if one writer claimed that both the Father and Jesus were God, while a different writer claimed there is only one God. This is not what we find. The doctrine of the Trinity is supported throughout much of the New Testament, and to some extent even in the Old Testament. (5)
It would be no problem at all to restrict ourselves to a single author (like Paul or John) and still demonstrate the doctrine of the Trinity. Rather than a demonstration of how the Bible contradicts itself, the doctrine of the Trinity demonstrates the harmony of the authors. Even for such a complex and difficult doctrine, the different authors are in complete agreement with one another.
Throughout history, the doctrine of the Trinity has been one of the most controversial of the basic teachings of Christianity. This is due mainly to the fact that the doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. We can know that there are three persons and yet only one God, but we cannot understand it. As the noted author C. S. Lewis stated, this was: . . . one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It is a religion you could not have guessed. If it offered us just the kind of universe we had always expected, I should feel we were making it up.
That we cannot understand the nature of God should not be too troubling, for the creation cannot really expect to understand the creator. When we find that the Christian doctrine of the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, this should be evidence for the veracity of Christianity, as it was for C. S. Lewis. As in so many instances, this is really a Catch-22 situation. Many critics claim that since the Trinity is beyond our comprehension, it does not make sense, and must be false. If the Christian concept of God were to be a nice neat package, one that could be easily understood, it would be cited as proof that people had created God in their own image, and again it must be false. Either way, Christianity will be criticized.
A few of the passages supporting the various part of the Trinity
1) There is a person called the Father, who is called God. - (2 Peter 1:17; Jude 1:1)
2) There is a person called the Son, who is called God. - (John 1:1; John 1:18; John 20:28; Rom 9:5; Titus 2:13; 2 Pet 1:1; 1 John 5:20)
3) There is a person called the Holy Spirit, who is called God. - (Acts5:3-4)
4) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are separate Persons - (Matt 3:16-17; John 17:1; Luke 22:42)
5) There is only one God - (Deut 6:4; 1 Sam 2:2; Is 43:10; Is 44:6,8; John 5:44, 1 Cor 8:4-6; James 2:19)
1 The word Trinity does not appear in either the New or Old Testaments. It is a Latin term, first used by Tertullian in the later part of the second century to describe the teachings of the Bible about the nature of God.
2 Some, like the United Pentecostal Church do dispute the existence of three Persons, and instead claim that Jesus sometimes appears in the role of the Father or in the role of the Holy Spirit. Because of this, and other reasons, they were expelled from the Assembly of God in the early part of this century.
3 John 1:1, John 1:18, John 20:28, Romans 9:5, Titus 2:13, 2 Peter 1:1, Hebrews 1:8, 1 John 5:20.
4 The Latter Day Saint doctrine could also be classified as henotheism, the belief in many Gods with the worship of one, for they see the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as a single "Godhead." Mormon doctrine teaches there are many Gods and Mormon males will, if they follow the teaching of the church, become Gods themselves, but they worship only one "Godhead."
5 For examples of the Trinity in the Old Testament see Genesis 1 and Proverbs 30:1-4.