In the minds of some people the Trinity is such an emotive subject that we need to make a few clear statements at the beginning. First, believing in the Trinity is not essential for salvation and so ‘proving’thedoctrine is not a vital step on the way to becoming a Christian. However, once someone has become a Christian and the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth has entered their lives it is vital that he or she allows Him to lead us into all truth (John 16:13).
Developing this, if we do not have the correct revelation of God, then it is questionable whether the Holy Spirit is within us or at least whether we are allowing Him to speak to us and show us what God’s Word says. In this light whether the trinity is true or not is vital and we must be aware of the full revelation of Scripture.
It is true that the word Trinity does not appear in Scripture but it does describe a relationship. Indeed, there are other words that do not appear in Scripture but we understand what they are describing. As Matthew J Slick points out in an article on Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry web site:
“… other words that the Bible does not use but the concepts are mentioned… Atheism is the teaching that there is no God. “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1)… Monotheism is the teaching that there is only one God (Isaiah 43:10; 44:8).”
We also have an example with the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society with the word “theocratic.” It comes from the Greek word theos and relates to God’s government. This indeed is described in Scripture but I have been unable to find an instance where the word itself is used.
The fact that the word does not appear in Scripture does not nullify the use of the word – what we have to be aware of is what is described by the word.
The heart of the definition of the Trinity is that there is one God who exists in three ‘persons’ or ‘personalities’: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Each member is equal in nature and substance.
There is an inherent problem in using the word “person” because we immediately think of the human being that can only live in one dimension. However, as can be seen here we do not use it in this way; indeed the Concise Oxford Dictionary actually gives a separate definition for the word person when used of the Godhead.
“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 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.”
Each of the three persons is distinct from the others and yet is related in “substance.” Each is divine in nature but what is vital to understand is that each individual is not the totality of the Godhead. Each is clearly shown from Scripture to have a will and uses “I” and “You” when speaking. Each is divine, yet there are not three gods, but one God.
“There are three persons individual subsistences, or persons. The word ‘subsistence’ means something that has a real existence. The word ‘person’ denotes individuality and self awareness. The Trinity is three of these, though the latter term has become the dominant one used to describe the individual aspects of God known as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
This definition of the doctrine of the Trinity is not polytheistic (belief in many gods) but is clearly monotheistic because it shows that there exists only one being known as God.
There are a number of reasons put forward as to wht the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be true, we will look at some of them.
Some opponents want to bring the accusation that this doctrine is illogical. However, all this is saying is that it is not logical to man’s reasoning, but we can never call God illogical. Do you understand the God of the Bible that has no beginning but has always been in existence? Of course not, because man is based in time and in the dimensions he understands.
The result is therefore that we cannot call the Trinity illogical because we do not have the reasoning that God has.
2. THREE-HEADED GOD
Opponents of the doctrine claim that this really means that those who believe in the doctrine of the Trinity believe in three Gods or at least a three-headed God. They further claim that the God described in the Trinity is copied from pagan three-god figures.
However, they fail to take into account that the definition of the Trinity doctrine is clearly monotheistic; teaching as it does that there is only one God.
The above type of criticism denies the very point of the definition of the doctrine; that there is only one God and this God is a unity of three separate beings.
Much is made by some opponents that the Bible describes that one member of the Trinity is subordinate to another. Even in human terms, the fact that you are subordinate to someone does not mean you have to be of a different ‘substance’ or indeed be different from them in anyway other than in ‘position’ and ‘function’.
1 Corinthians 15:28 reads in the NASB,
“When all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.”
If we take this literally then it means that for all of Christ’s earthly life He was not subordinate to the Father because it says, “will be subjected!” Yet we know all through His life the Son did the will of the Father and so what can this verse mean?
The Greek word for subordinate is hupotasso which Strong’s Concordance tells us means,
“to subordinate; reflexively to obey: – be under obedience (obedient), put under, subdue unto, (be, make) subject (to, unto), be (put) in subjection (to, under), submit self unto.”
We are also told that one of the roots of the word is,
“tasso – A prolonged form of a primary verb (which latter appears only in certain tenses); to arrange in an orderly manner, that is, assign or dispose (to a certain position or lot): – addict, appoint, determine, ordain, set.”
Here we have it, subordination is all about position, place and practice not about being of a different ‘personage’.
Another verse that is also used in a similar way is 1 Corinthians 11:3 which shows that Christ has a ‘head’ but God does not.
“But I want you to understand that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.”
The Greek word here is kephale of which Strong’s tells us is
“Probably from the primary word kapto (in the sense of seizing); the head (as the part most readily taken hold of), literally or figuratively: – head”.
Notice that it does not need to be literally and indeed in the context of 1 Corinthians 11, Paul is making a point about authority not literally being the ‘boss’ of someone. In addition, we have the situation where a man is the head of the woman but they are both of the same ‘substance’ but have differing roles. The analogy therefore is true of Christ too – He is of the same substance as the Father, that is God, but has a differing role.
The fact that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are clearly given ‘God characteristics’ show beyond any doubt that the Bible presents this picture of all three being God even if we have difficulty in understanding it with our human reasoning.
Some illustrations of these ‘God characteristics’ can be seen in
1 Kings 8:27, Matthew 28:20 and Psalm 139:7-10. These show that they all have the ability to be everywhere for all time.
1 John 3:20, John 21:17 and 1 Corinthians 2:10-11 show that all three know all things.
Isaiah 64:8, Colossians 1:16 and Job 33:4 show that all three are creators.
There are other examples but these three examples show that Scripture makes plain that Father Son and Holy Sprit are rightly called God.
How did this doctrine come into being? Is it true, as opponents would say that the Trinity was a man-made doctrine in the third or fourth century? If this is not true why was it that the doctrine did not see the light of day until then? Was it really a Roman Emperor that forced the Christian Church to accept a pagan doctrine?
Constantine may not have been the greatest Christian but many people have blamed him for something he did not do. The events leading up to the Council of Nicea and the development of the Trinity Doctrine take on a very different meaning when viewed as follows.
“The council held at Antioch in the early weeks of 325 furnishes a much more overt and instructive example of synod creed-making prior to Nicea. This gathering of 59 Bishops . . . took advantage of their meeting together to condemn the Arian heresy and to publish a fulldress declaration of their own position. Possibly they were aware of Constantine’s determination himself to settle a controversy which was leaving a festering sore in the Church’s body, and wanted to anticipate by a fait accompli any chance there might be of the imperial decision going the wrong way.” Early Christian Creeds, J.N.D.Kelly, p.208
The Council at Antioch took place in January 325 and Nicea was in June. Whereas Constantine did have a hand in the day-to-day running, the above shows that the Bishops knew they needed to make a statement of faith and were prepared to do so.
Why didn’t Nicea proclaim the Trinity Doctrine outright? The reason for this, was the whole purpose of Council of Nicea. It was not to create a new doctrine and was not even to define a belief in the Trinity that had been around for many years but rather to deal with a matter of heresy. In 318 Arius with his supporters, Theonas, Secundus and Eusebius of Nicomedia, began to explain publicly the view that Jesus was an inferior creature to God the Father. The Council was declared to rebut this belief.
After long debate, the council declared the following,
“We believe… in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, begotten from the Father, only-begotten, that is from the substance of the Father, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one substance (homoousios) with the Father.”
The question of the Holy Spirit was addressed at a later council in 451, here they said of Him,
“Who with the Father and Son together is worshipped and glorified”
C. EARLY CHURCH FATHERS
Some critics say that the early church fathers did not teach the Trinity and so it had to be a man-made doctrine and could not have come from the Biblical teaching that these men followed. However, evidence from their writings shows that this criticism is not true. I reproduce a few quotations below, in alphabetical order, that can be checked to see that they are not taken out of context in the original publications.
Clement of Alexandria
“Both as God and as man, the Lord renders us every kind of help and service. As God He forgives sin, as man He educates us to avoid sin completely.” – Christ the Educator, chapter 3.1.
“For it is essential that the Divine Word should be united to the God of all, and that the Holy Spirit should abide and dwell in God; and this the Divine Trinity should be reduced and gathered into one, as if into a certain head – that is, into the omnipotent God of all.” – The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.7, p.365.
“And the blessed John in the testimony of his gospel, gives us an account of this economy and acknowledges this word as God, when he says, ‘In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.’ If then the Word was with God and was also God, what follows? Would one say that he speaks of two Gods? I shall not indeed speak of two Gods, but of one; of two persons however, and of a third economy, the grace of the Holy Ghost” – Against the Heresy of One Noetus. 14.
“There is then one God and Father, and not two or three… And there is also one Son, God the Word … And God the Word was born as men…” – The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.1, p.116.
“But the Son, eternally co-existing with the Father, from of old, yea, from the beginning, always reveals the Father to Angels, Archangels, Powers, Virtues, and all to whom He wills that God should be revealed.” – Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.5, pp. 239.
“…the Father of the universe has a Son; who being the logos and First-begotten is also God.” – First Apology 63:15.
“Nevertheless it seems proper to inquire what is the reason why he who is regenerated by God unto salvation has to do both with Father and Son and Holy Spirit and does not obtain salvation unless with the co-operation of the entire Trinity.” – The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.4, p.253.
“And that you may understand that the omnipotence of Father and Son is one and the same, as God and the Lord are one and the same with the Father, listen to the manner in which John speaks in the Apocalypse: ‘Thus saith the Lord God, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty’. For who else was ‘He which is to come’ than Christ? And as no one ought to be offended, seeing God is the Father, that the Saviour is also God; so also, since the Father is called omnipotent, no one ought to be offended that the Son of God is also called omnipotent.” – Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.10, pp.29.
“What need would there be of the gospel, which is the substance of the New Covenant, laying down (as it does) that the Law and the Prophets lasted until John the Baptist, if thence forward the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are not believed in as Three, and as making One Only God.” – The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Wm B Eerdmans, Vol.3, p.627
“We have been taught that He proceeds forth from God, and in that procession He is generated; so that He is the Son of God, and is called God from unity .of substance with God. For God, too, is a Spirit. Even when the ray is shot from the sun, it is still part of the parent mass; the sun will still be in the ray, because it is a ray of sun – there is no division of substance, but merely an extension. Thus Christ is Spirit of Spirit, and God of God, as light of light is kindled. The material matrix remains entire and unimpaired, though you derive from it any number of shoots possessed of its qualities; so, too, that which has come forth out of God is at once God and the Son of God, and the two are one. In this way also, as He is Spirit of Spirit and God of God, He is made a second in manner of existence – in position, not in nature; and He did not withdraw from the original source, but went forth. This ray of God, then as it was always foretold in ancient times, descending into a certain virgin, and made flesh in her womb, is in His birth God and man united.” – Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol.11, pp.92/93.
Several main verses are used by critics to cast doubt on the doctrine of the Trinity. We will seek to look at them in chronological order and discover whether they actually prove or disprove if the doctrine of the Trinity is found in Scripture. Other Scriptures may be added at a later date.
As most will know this is a verse that, compared with the main vesrsions of the Bible, the Jehovah’s Witnesses translate differently in their New World Translation of the Bible, and they believe it clearly shows there is no Trinity. Christadelphians use this same verse in a different way to seek to prove that Jesus had no pre-existence and can therefore not be God but what do these verses actually show?
There is an involved grammatical reason why this verse cannot be translated “…and the word was a god.” I will not go into it here but anybody wanting to research this should check the article by Pat Zukeram entitled, Why We Should Believe in the Trinity.
However, there are other simpler ways of showing that John 1:1 clearly shows that Jesus is God and not ‘a god’.
John begins his Gospel with the phrase, “In the beginning was the Word.” Clearly John wants to remind us of Genesis 1:1, which deals with an uncreated God who was there at the beginning. In other words this literally means, “When the beginning begun God was already there”. There is no question that we are dealing with an eternal being without beginning who has always been in existence.
Exactly the same phrase is used in John 1:1 and it has the same meaning – in fact it cannot have a different meaning. When the beginning begun the Word was already there. Again, there is no question, we are dealing with an eternal being without beginning who has always been in existence. Such a One can never be ‘a god’ but only God.
However, John does not want us to be in doubt as to what he is saying and so in the second phrase, and the Word was with God, he goes on to show that the Word is a distinct ‘person’ from the Father.
Finally in the third phrase, and the Word was God he shows to his readers that although the Word is a separate and distinct ‘person’ from the Father, the Word is also in nature and substance fully God.
The context that the Gospel is set in then refuses to allow the translation that Jesus is ‘a god’. This is further underlined by verse 3:
“All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (NASB)
Notice the phrase “came into being,” which is emphasised three times in the verse. This is a translation of the Greek word ginomai which Strong’s tells us means,
“A prolonged and middle form of a primary verb; to cause to be (‘gen’ -erate), that is, (reflexively) to become (come into being)…”
What is clear is that everything that has had to come into being; everything that has had to be generated; everything that was not originally and needed a beginning, came through Christ. Not being satisfied John goes on to show that without Him nothing ever came into being. If Jesus was not an uncreated being He could never have had existence because everything that is created – heavenly angels included – came into being though Jesus.
The context of John 1:1-3, we believe, gives no place for Jesus being ‘a god’ but only God.
Here Jesus is called “the only begotten from the Father,” but does this phrase mean that Jesus is created and therefore not God? Such a definition would be inconsistent with what John said at the beginning of his Gospel, as we have discussed above, where he declared the eternal nature of the Word.
Whatever the English translation may conjure up in our minds the Greek monogenes means ‘unique’ or ‘only.’ We find the same word used of the Widow of Nain’s ‘only’ son and Jairus’ ‘only’ daughter. It is also used very interestingly in Hebrews 11:17 where Isaac is called Abraham’s “only begotten;” we know however from the history recorded in Genesis that Isaac was not Abraham’s only son.
Abraham fathered several other sons and so how was Isaac the “only begotten”? In the sense that he was the only son given to Abraham by God’s promise, he was unique. In the same way when only begotten is used of Jesus, He is the only begotten in the sense that He is unique. No one else can be the Son of God, this is a unique relationship.
This unique relationship is of eternal proportions; not son and father as we understand them in human terms but to their relationship within the Godhead. However, it could also be used of Jesus being born on earth because He is the only person born of a woman, whose human nature never came by the ordinary way of procreation. He is unique and indeed God, because man had nothing to do with His birth, He came into the virgin’s womb through the Holy Spirit of God.
“For not even the Father judges anyone, but He has given all judgment to the Son, so that all will honor the Son even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” (NASB)
Jesus does something that the Father does not do and He explains it is for a reason – so that all will honour Him, just as, in the same way, they honour the Father. What does this mean?
The Greek word for honour is timao, which Strong’s tells us means,
“to prize, that is, fix a valuation upon; by implication to revere: – honour, value.”
In other words we must give the same valuation to the Son as we do to the Father. We must revere them in both the same way and give them both the same value. There is to be no distinction between the two in our eyes they are to be equal in all we say and do to them. To do this, we must acknowledge Jesus as being equal in nature to God.
“Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am.'”
What a clear declaration that can have but one meaning. Jesus is the “I am” the eternal ever-present One. This is the term God used when He spoke to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Here is a clear statement of Christ declaring His divinity.
The Greek for I am is ego eimi. Using this phrase Jesus claims eternal existence with the absolute phrase used of God. The contrast between genesthai – Abraham coming into being – and eimi – indicating an uncreated timeless being – would not be lost on His hearers. This is shown clearly by their action of seeking to stone Him.
These verses also have Jews trying to stone Jesus and here we have an explanation as to why.
“I and the Father are one. The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him. Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.” (NASB)
Jesus claims that He and the Father are one. The Jews had no problem in understanding what He was saying because they picked up stones to stone Him. They knew that Jesus was claiming to be God, not just one in purpose with God. The Jews make this abundantly clear when they say that they are stoning Him because, being a man, He claimed to be God. The Jews knew what Jesus meant and Jesus does not deny the fact that He was claiming that very thing.
However, before we leave this passage we must deal with the next verses that are often used by opponents of the Trinity to claim that there are others who are gods; and so calling Jesus a lesser god than Jehovah is not a problem.
“Jesus answered them, ‘Has it not been written in your Law, “I said, you are gods”?’ If he called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him, whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, ‘You are blaspheming,’ because I said, ‘I am the Son of God’?”
Jesus is quoting from Psalm 82:2 where in the Old Testament, a specific group of people, the judges, were called by the Hebrew word, elohim. This is the only group in the Old Testament to whom the word is applied, apart from the true God (See also Exodus 21:6; 22:9 and 22:28). Jesus, in this passage, was talking to the Jewish rabbis and used words and illustrations that they understood. He was communicating with them on their own ground in a thoroughly Jewish way. There is nothing here that allows us to take this passage outside of the context it is set in.
“You heard that I said to you, ‘I go away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved Me, you would have rejoiced because I go to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”
The question we need to answer is, does Jesus, when He says, “My Father is greater than I,” mean that His Father was different than, superior too or indeed better than He was. Is it possible for there to be a relationship as described above of a Godhead, and one member say of the other, He is greater than I?
John 13:16 has already established that the sender is greater than the one He sends and so in this sense the Father is greater than the Son. The Father, in eternity was obviously greater than the Son contracted to human span. However, nothing here argues against the message that John has shown many times in his Gospel, the clear demonstration of the Godhead. Christ refers to both His Divine and human natures. In John 10:30 referring to the former He says, “I and the Father are one,” here referring to the latter He states, “the Father is greater than I.” There is no contradiction and no denial of the Trinity.
Greater here refers to position, not to nature, as many examples of those in authority can show. For example, we would agree with the statement that the Queen is greater than you or I. As sovereign of the country she is greater due to her position. However, we would disagree with a statement that says the Queen is by nature better than you or I. We are all human and equal in nature and so again, we iterate, greater refers to position, not to nature.
These verses refer to the second time that Jesus has appeared to the disciples; the first time Thomas was not there and so Jesus returns to speak with him. Thomas’ immediate response is to acknowledge Jesus as “my Lord” and “my God.” A Scriptural statement that seems so clear in any language but especially the original Greek
My Lord and my God is, Ho kurios mou kai ho theos mou. Not an exclamation of surprise but a clear address. Thomas was wholly convinced, and did not hesitate to address the risen Christ as Lord and God, and what is more poignant Jesus accepts the words, and praises Thomas for so doing.
Those who want to deny the Godhead of Christ claim that Thomas made an exclamation of surprise and somehow addressed the Father and not Christ. It appears that it was Theodore of Mopsuestia who first gave these words that twist but we should note that the fifth Ecumenical council, held at Constantinople, anathematized him for it. We have to ignore every rule of sentence construction to apply the address here to anyone but Christ and conclude that Jesus welcomed the acknowledgement.
It clearly says Thomas said to Him (Jesus) both statements and indeed the Greek is ho theos, the God. Jesus is called not just ‘a god’ but ‘the God.’ Thomas literally says, “the God of me.” If this statement were not true, Jesus would have had to rebuke Thomas. However, in verse 29, He commends all those who will believe the same as Thomas believed.
In the midst of those who would go out to teach the early church, Jesus accepts the acclamation that He was God. What would the apostles believe? What must we also believe from this incident?
The key to the correct understanding of this verse is to determine what the term first-born, actually means The Greek word for “first created” is the protoktioti. If Paul wanted to say Christ was the first created being, he would have used this word but he does not. He uses another term, prototokos. Paul is here referring to the Jewish use of the word first-born, which not only means first one born but also is used as a title of sovereignty and pre-eminence.
Paul was writing to those who at that point in time only had the Old Testament – they were the Scriptures for them. Therefore his readers would have understood the term in the light of the way it was used in the Scriptures they read. An example of this would be found in Psalm 89:27 where God says of David, “I also shall make him My first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth.”
Is David the first-born son of Jesse? No, he is the eighth and youngest son of Jesse. Then how is it that David is the first-born? In the Old Testament use of the word, he is first-born in that he is pre-eminent or sovereign of all the kings of the earth.
We have a further example of this usage in Colossians 1:18 where we read that Jesus is “the firstborn from the dead…”, but does this mean that Jesus was the first one to be born from the dead? That would not be true because Lazarus was before Him, as indeed were others in the Old and New Testaments. Is the Scripture wrong? No, because the Greek word has the meaning of position, place, ranking. This is seen in the Old Testament where on two occasions the first to be born lost the position of firstborn to the second to be born.
What we see here, as we read this Scripture through the eyes of those who studied the Old Testament Scriptures, is that firstborn has always, in the Hebrew tradition, had to do with place and pre-eminence over. The context of Colossians makes it clear that the word is used in the same way. Verse 18 we quoted above goes on, “so that He Himself will come to have first place in everything.”
Here we read,
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God2, says this…”
The Greek word for beginning is arche, which Strong’s tells us means,
“a commencement, or (concrete) chief (in various applications of order, time, place or rank): – beginning, corner, (at the, the) first (estate), magistrate, power, principality, principle, rule.”
It means beginning, only in the sense of source or commencement not first creation. The phrase, the “Beginning of the creation of God” therefore means the source of all God’s creation. Once again showing that He is the uncreated God and not a creation of God. The same word Beginning (arche) is used in Revelation 21:6 of Jehovah. Does this mean that Jehovah was created and had a beginning? No. Therefore, why does it mean this of Jesus?
Jesus is in His heavenly ministry and we read what is happening around Him.
“‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing.’ And every created thing which is in heaven and on the earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all things in them, I heard saying, ‘To Him who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb, be blessing and honor and glory and dominion forever and ever.’ And the four living creatures kept saying, ‘Amen.’ And the elders fell down and worshiped.”
Who is receiving this honour, glory and worship? The One on the throne [Jehovah] and the Lamb [Jesus). Are we not to do what heaven is doing?
Do not be sidetracked by such comments as, they are only bowing down to Jesus because He is standing next to Jehovah, and so when they bow down to Jehovah it appears that they are bowing down to Jesus! Verse 8 gives the lie to this, where they bow down to Jesus without Jehovah.
In addition, note that ‘every creature’ gives this to Jesus, who therefore cannot be a created being. This is not even an angel, a created heavenly being, because they never accept worship. This verse shows clearly that Jesus is God.
The evidence presented here from an evangelical Christian perspective shows, beyond all reasonable doubt, that the Scriptures teach the doctrine of the Trinity and to deny it is to deny the Word of God.