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The Trinity is a biblical doctrine, but let’s admit it: There’s something annoying about how hard it is to put your finger on a verse that states the whole doctrine.
The Bible presents the elements of the doctrine in numerous passages, of course: that there is only one God; that the Father is God; that the Son is God; and that the Spirit is God. We can also tell easily enough that the Father, Son and Spirit are really distinct from one another, and are not just three names for one person. If you hold all those clear teachings of Scripture in your mind at one time and think through them together, the doctrine of the Trinity is inevitable. Trinitarianism is a biblical doctrine and all the ingredients are given to us there. Just add thought and you have the classic doctrine.
Like most evangelicals, though, I would prefer to have a doctrine be stated clearly and concisely in one place. I like my doctrines verse-sized. I sometimes wish there were one verse that said, “God is one being in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The doctrine of the Trinity, though, is simply not verse-sized. Sometimes that feels like a disadvantage, but in fact it’s an advantage. The doctrine of the Trinity is a massive, comprehensive, full-Bible doctrine that serves to expand our minds as readers of Scripture. In Scripture, God is leading his people to understand who he is as Father, Son and Spirit.
For example, set aside for a moment the desire to fit the doctrine into one verse. Look instead at how it shows up in a slightly larger (three verses) passage, Galatians 4:4-6: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son … to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul is describing God’s greatest acts in the history of salvation, and those acts are specifically Trinitarian: The Father sends the Son and the Spirit to save.
Or think even bigger: in a crucial passage of Romans, Paul summarizes his message in five verses, and there is a necessarily Trinitarian cadence to his summary: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. … We rejoice … because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:1–5).
Or try to take in 12 verses at once: Ephesians 1:3-14 is one gigantic sentence (in Greek) that surveys all of God’s plans and intentions from eternity past, through our present salvation, and on to final redemption. Three times it points us to the kind intention of God’s will, and three times it points us to the praise of his glory. The fundamental movement of the passage, though, is from the Father’s choosing and predestining us in love, through the beloved Son’s death for our forgiveness, to the Holy Spirit’s work sealing us for redemption.
Once you learn to see the Trinity shaping these larger stretches of Scripture, you’re ready to notice how entire books of the Bible are structured by the same Trinitarian logic. In Galatians, for example, Paul proves his gospel of faith against salvation by works in a three-part argument: The Galatians received the Spirit by faith, God promised Abraham that he would justify the Gentiles by faith, and Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. The great arc of Romans runs from the Father’s judgment through the Son’s propitiation to the Spirit’s deliverance.
If you want to catch a glimpse of the Trinity as the big story behind the Bible, the best thing to do is to read the Gospel of John fast, in one sitting. Your dominant impression during the first half will be that the Father and the Son love each other, and in the second half the Holy Spirit will burst into your attention as the fulfillment of the revelation.
There are a handful of verses where the three persons are named in one place, such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. These classic passages have the advantage of being comfortably verse-sized. But when we move on from the partial glimpses of the Trinity we can get from single verses, we are led on to larger stretches of argument, wider vistas of insight, and a more inclusive expanse of God’s self-revelation through Scripture. And that prepares our minds for the biggest Christian thought of all: The whole Bible is one complete book that reveals the Trinity. That fact is what the ancient church fathers meant when they summarized the Christian faith in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father … and in his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ … and in the Holy Spirit.”
The Trinity is a biblical doctrine, therefore, in a very special sense: not in any one verse, but as the key to the entire book.
What biblical truth does Trinitarian Logic unlock for you?
What passages do you find most helpful in understanding the Trinity?
Editor's Note: The article above was originally published in
and is posted here by permission. The image above was found
What if we take John 14:9 “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” at face value. Remember Isaiah prophesying about the birth of Christ said in Isaiah 9:6 “… unto us a son is given … his name shall be called ... The mighty God, The everlasting Father ….” This could be Christ saying to the affect, you wish to see the father, you looking at him. When we go back to John 14 things get more interesting. In John 14:26 Jesus said “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” But in John 14:16-18 “And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you forever; (17) Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for He dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. (18) I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.” This makes since and is aligned with verse 26 until verse 18 when it sounds like the spirit in us is Jesus. John 14:20 states “At that day ye shall know that I am in my Father, and ye in me, and I in you.” Which lines up better with 18 than the others.
Backing way for John if we look at Matthew 28:19 two things seem a bit odd. Matthew 28:19 appears to be the only time Father, Son and Holy Ghost appear as a set. For something as big the Trinity you would think it would show up more often than just once. Second Mark and Luck record the same event in Mark 16 and Luke 24 that Matthew 28 is talking of. All three talk about going to the whole world preaching ect. The odd part Mark and Luke talk about do things in the name of Christ aka Jesus but Matthew talks about in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Making this more odd Luke latter tells us, in the book of Acts, about several baptisms, healing ect. They were done not in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as Jesus had told them to do, but in the name of Jesus. For example Acts 19:5 “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
It would seem that the early church thought that Jesus was the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost. It is hard if not impossible for us to comprehend how Jesus could be both God and man. This is clear in John 14 where Jesus is talking about how our relationship will be different after the cross. To answer the question “what passages do you find most helpful in understanding the Trinity?” I must say is Deuteronomy 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:” The Trinity is not a fact of God but an artifact of our relationships with Him. It was God who was nailed to the cross; it is God who lives in us.
This article is excellent, and like Ents, anything we say about God should indeed take a long time to say.
One of the most helpful metaphors for the Trinity that I have heard is from Jeremy Begbie (Duke University and Cambridge) who suggests we step out of the "visual" arena and into the "sonic" arena.
A chord is three notes. Single sonic experiences that, when put together, can fill the same space (unlike visuals). Without one note, the chord ceases to exist.
I've been grateful for this metaphor for many years.
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