The Biblical Concept of the Triune God, Part IV: The Trinity in Scripture

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. So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:26,27)

The Hebrew word for “God” explains why the startling phrase “Let us make” is discovered here. “Elohim” is a plural noun. The ancient Israelites knew this, and always translated the word singular, knowing the plural adds intensity. God, then, is a singular plurality – the very essence of Trinitarian teaching. Furthermore, the pronoun used in God’s quote is “our”, another plural term. Yet true to the consistency of this concept, the verse narrates the result of God’s decision in saying “so God created man in his own image” and uses the singular pronoun “he” two more times. So a plural word is rendered singular, and a plural pronoun is transmitted singularly. This truth, incomprehensible as it may seem, testifies of the unity of thee Persons of the triune Godhead.

The Trinitarian unity is also seen in the creation of man. The Elohim which created is revealed in scripture to be the Father (Isaiah 40:28), the Son (Colossians 1:16), and the Holy Spirit (Job 33:4).

Finally, the unity is seen in man’s nature. He was created in the image of the Elohim (our image, our likeness). This is realized in the fact that man is a “living soul” (Genesis 2:7), capable of making moral decisions, unlike the other creatures. He has dominion over the other creatures (Genesis 1:28), giving him a position like the Lord. Most specifically, He is a tripartite being, having spirit, soul, and body (I Thessalonians 5:23). Man, although consisting of three parts, is a united entity. These things, among other attributes, certainly do not make man equal with God, but they do manifest the intention God had when He created man in His own image and likeness.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD (Deuteronomy 6:4)

The Shema (hearing) is a traditional declaration of the people of God still widely revered by Jews today. It has been uttered through the ages as the proclamation of monotheism. New Testament Christians can express the same verse of scripture in praise to the Lord. Little do those who repeat this realize how much it bears witness to the Trinity.

That the English rendering of the divine name (the tetragrammaton, YHWH) employs the word LORD in all capital letters is well known. The Jews often simply said Lord or God, hardly writing the name out in full (such as G-d). The mystery of this name has been rendered by some as Yahweh or Jehovah by filling in the vowels and conforming the word into Latin, Greek, or English. Taking the common interpretation “Jehovah”, this verse could say, “Jehovah our God is one Jehovah.”

Knowing the Hebrew underlying the word “God” is plural (Elohim), the Tri-unity becomes more evident. Elohim is translated “gods” in the Bible about 210 times. In contrast to the gods of Egypt and other pagan nations, the Israelites could declare the oneness of their God in the Shema. Literally, it reads, “Jehovah our Gods is one Jehovah.” The Hebrew word used for “one” is echad, a word denoting compound unity, rather than the word yacheed, which denotes singular unity as in “only one.” Even the language speaks of the Triune God.

Hearken unto me, O Jacob and Israel, my called; I am he; I am the first, I also am the last. Mine hand also hath laid the foundation of the earth, and my right hand hath spanned the heavens: when I call unto them, they stand up together. All ye, assemble yourselves, and hear; which among them hath declared these things? The LORD hath loved him: he will do his pleasure on Babylon, and his arm shall be on the Chaldeans. I, even I, have spoken; yea, I have called him: I have brought him, and he shall make his way prosperous. 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. (Isaiah 48:12-16)

God’s relationship to Israel is enlarged. His love illumines through his desire for Israel to listen to Him. Israel is “my called” – the chosen people of the Living God. Although they forsook God, God would not forsake them. He would raise up one (Cyrus) who would destroy those that took Israel into captivity (Ezra 1:1,2). All that is said of God here can also be said of Jesus Christ. He is also the first and last (Revelation 1:17, 18). He is also the One who laid the foundation of the earth and spanned the heavens (Colossians 1:16). He also has that passionate love for Jerusalem (Matthew 23:37) – a testimony to His Deity, for in His lament over Jerusalem’s rejection of God, Jesus claims that He often sought to protect Israel under His wings, but they “would not.” The figure of God’s wings is a repeated theme in scripture (Deuteronomy 32:10-12; Ruth 2:12; Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; 63:7; 91:4; Isaiah 31:5; Malachi 4:2). God the Son is clearly seen in this passage.

Like many prophecies, the prophet himself speaks at a seemingly obscure time. Throughout this portion of scripture “I” denotes the Lord. Isaiah himself speaks, however, when he says “now the Lord GOD, and his Spirit, hath sent me.” Isaiah is considered a type of Christ, and since Christ is manifest in this passage, it is easy to see the symbolism. Just as Cyrus, whom the Lord loved, was to deliver Israel out of Babylonian captivity, Jesus Christ was to deliver His people from their sins (Matthew 1:21). Both acts of God were motivated by His love for His people (Isaiah 63:9; John 3:16). Just as Isaiah was sent to the people by God to proclaim God’s plan, Jesus Christ was sent into the world by His Father (John 10:36). God the Father is clearly seen in this passage.

Isaiah says that he was sent by the Lord God and His Spirit. He also gave tribute to the Spirit in his commission to preach (Isaiah 61:1), another symbol which was fulfilled by Christ in Luke 4:18, signifying again the connection between Isaiah and Jesus Christ. In this truth, the distinction between God the Father and God the Spirit is seen. Their oneness is also seen, in that they both did the sending. The Holy Spirit had just as much authority in sending the Lord Jesus, and here Isaiah, as God Himself, which makes Him equal with God. God the Holy Spirit is clearly seen in this passage.

The three Persons of the Triune Godhead are seen in this amazing passage of scripture. They are united in purpose, love, and eternality. They are One God.

Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matthew 28:19)

Jesus is giving what many call the Great Commission because of its importance to the function of the Church. He left many commandments and charges to His followers, but the one of utmost importance is to make disciples of every nation. In doing so, the Church identifies the convert with the Lord in baptism (Acts 2:38; 8:36, 37; 19:4). Jesus commands them to be baptized in the name (identity) of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. It is significant that all three Persons of the Trinity are mentioned. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost is the ultimate name of God. When one becomes a Christian, this is the God with whom he identifies. Note that the word “name” is not plural, that it should read “names of…”, but rather “name (singular) of…” This is because the Three are One.

Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened, And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased. (Luke 3:21,22)

The Trinity appears altogether in the account Jesus’ baptism (see also Matthew 3:16, 17; Mark 1:10; John 1:32-34). Jesus’ being baptized exemplifies His humility as a man in service toward His Father. The descent of the Holy Spirit illustrates His influence on the ministry of Christ (Luke 4:1, 14, 18). The voice from Heaven shows God the Father’s official approval of Jesus Christ, His beloved Son, whom He gave to save the world (John 3:16; Philippians 2:9, 10). The distinction of the three Persons is clearly seen, as well as their unity as God in His ultimate purpose.

I and my father are one. (John 10:30)

The unity of the Father and Son is explicitly given. Jesus reveals that He is one with His father. Note that He does not say one “in purpose”, “in mission”, or “in mind”, not denying that they are indeed. He says one. This refers to being, essence, and nature. In totality, the Two are united in their nature and therefore their purpose. Jesus speaks here of His equal essence with God because of the context – in the same passage, Christ claims to be the Door (v9), the Good Shepherd (v11), the One having power to lay down and take back His life (v18), and the Giver of eternal life (v28). To establish these truths in the minds of those to whom He spake, Jesus claims His authority to say all these things is given to Him of His father (v18, 29). He then concludes that He and His father are One.

The Jews knew precisely what Christ was doing – equating Himself with God (v31-33). They charged Him with blasphemy. Jesus never denied claiming that He was God. Instead, He pointed out that the law itself says, “ye are gods” (Psalm 82:6).

The Psalm Jesus quoted was a reference to Exodus 22, in which God charges the judges of Israel with the responsibility to enforce the law on the people, using the word “elohim” (gods) to bring to their hearts the intense responsibility they had by representing God’s justice to the people. This is affirmed in the 82nd Psalm, in which God is elevated above all other “gods” – the judges over the people of Israel. The first verse declares the authority God has over all other rulers: “God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods.” Although they are called gods for purpose of their position among the people, the Almighty reminds them of their true nature: “But ye shall die like men” (v 7). Knowing this, Jesus was not telling the Jews that they were gods in the sense that He is God in order to justify His claims. Rather, He said, “If he called them gods, unto whom the word of God came, and the scripture cannot be broken; Say ye of him, whom the Father hath sanctified, and sent into the world, Thou blasphemest; because I said, I am the Son of God?” Christ questioned the integrity of these Jewish leaders, the Pharisees, who held positions in Israel similar to those of the judges. Realizing they had inherited this status, and knowing the scriptures well, the label “gods” was applied to them in their minds (Matthew 23:2-9). Therefore, it was hypocrisy to charge Christ with blasphemy while well knowing that they proudly wore the title “god” themselves.

Jesus used this logic to confound the Pharisees. They soon reduced their vicious intentions from wanting to stone him to wanting to arrest him. Had they arrested him, the Pharisees would have probably tried Jesus until they could find fault in Him. Their concession to this, however, means they had no sufficient ground on which they could stone Him for blasphemy, for He proved that He was no blasphemer.

Being innocent of blasphemy, Jesus still equated Himself with God. This not only testifies of His Deity, but it also makes known His oneness with the Father. They are untied as One God. This unity is displayed in their love for the sheep, their keeping of the sheep, and their purpose for the sheep. Jesus’ bold statement is illustrated in these things solely because He is One with the Father. Their oneness is a unique characteristic of the Godhead, in that the Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father, but they are One God.

 

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen. (II Corinthians 13:14)

This “apostolic benediction” includes the Three Persons of the Godhead. Their Deity is seen in the properties ascribed to each. Grace is ascribed the Jesus Christ, but it is also ascribed to the God the Father (Acts 20:24; Romans 5:15). Love is ascribed to God the Father, but it is also ascribed to Jesus Christ (Romans 8:35 – which is also interchangeably used with “love of God”; II Corinthians 5:14; Ephesians 3:19). Communion is ascribed to the Holy Ghost, but it is also ascribed to God the Father and Jesus Christ (I Corinthians 1:9; I John 1:3, 6, 7), using the same Greek word translated “fellowship.” The Three Persons, then, share the same qualities because they are One. This vividly illustrates their unity as one God.

And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (II Corinthians 6:16)

What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s (I Corinthians 6:19)

To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:27)

The first of these verses has God saying “I will dwell in them.” There is no doubt that this is the Almighty, and the generic term “God” normally is considered to be God the Father. This indwelling is a special privilege bestowed upon the people of God in the New Testament. Although it is quoted from Leviticus 26:12; Jeremiah 31:33; 32:38; and Ezekiel 37:26, 27, God’s dwelling in His people is not fully realized until the New Testament age. This is seen more clearly in the indwelling of the other Persons of the Godhead.

The Christian is told that his body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, which is in him. He is then exhorted to glorify God in his body, making it clear that the Holy Ghost is God. His presence in the lives of believers is permanent, in contrast to His involvement with Old Testament saints (Psalm 51:11; John 14:16; Ephesians 4:30).

Scripture also reveals that the believer of this age has Christ in him. Jesus Christ promised that He would be with His people forever (Matthew 28:20), and this is fully exemplified in the indwelling of God in the lives of believers. Because of this Hebrews 13:5b resonates with truth: “I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee.”

Theologically, the Holy Spirit is the designated Person of the Trinity who indwells believers. However, scripture also credits this indwelling to the Father and the Son, because they are One with the Holy Spirit. The unity of the Trinity is seen in their indwelling of saints.

Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied. (I Peter 1:2)

The unity of the Trinity is seen again in their participation in the sanctifying process of believers. Firstly, the believer’s salvation is known to God the Father through His perfect foreknowledge, and he is elect of Him. Secondly, the Holy Spirit sanctifies the believer, meaning He sets Him apart unto holiness. Thirdly, this is only accomplished because of the death of Jesus Christ, which made a way for sinners to come to God and therefore be sanctified. Through this pardon, they can obey and serve the Living God. One God is involved in salvation’s plan, but it is evident that each Person of the Godhead has a unique role. They are united in this process.

For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. (I John 5:7)

There can be no verse more clear than this, in which the Three Persons are explicitly named and divinely called “one.” This verse, according to divine preservation (Psalm 12:6; Isaiah 40:8; Matthew 5:18; 24:25), fits perfectly into the whole of scripture and the context of the passage in which it is found. The Word refers to Jesus Christ, as it does elsewhere in scripture (John 1:1). Here we learn of the unity of the three Persons, not just in purpose, process, or performance, but in nature.

Conclusion

Approaching the doctrine of the Triune God from the outside of biblical Christianity could be daunting to the mind. Objections concerning monotheism and common sense seem to arise. These questions also exist within the hearts of professing Christians. All would agree that Trinitarian teaching is beyond that of human comprehending.

We rejoice, however, that God has made Himself known to us through His Word. Even some truths therein are hard to understand: creation by speaking, eternal redemption, and the future Kingdom, to name a few. Our spiritually depraved souls fall short of grasping these things. Yet, we may read about God’s truth in the Bible. We accept that God has created the world just as He says He did in Genesis. We accept that we are saved eternally by trusting the Lord Jesus. We accept that God will establish His future kingdom. These are all accepted by faith, no matter how limited our understanding of them may be.

The same is true of the Trinity. Man has systematized a teaching found in scripture. We have used the words “Trinity” and “Triune” to denote this teaching. We admit that we may not comprehend the concept fully, but this study has proven that it indeed is a biblical concept. The Father is not the Son, nor is the Son the Father. The Father is not the Holy Spirit, nor is the Holy Spirit the Father. The Son is not the Holy Spirit, not is the Holy Spirit the Son. The Three Persons are revealed to be distinct. They are, however One God, eternally existent in this nature.

God’s truth is not subject to man’s opinion. We may all agree that the Trinity is hard to understand, but no one has an excuse for rejecting such a biblical teaching. The fate of one’s soul rests in this fact. Jesus said, “And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:23, 24). Since salvation is totally dependent on the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ (John 3:16; Romans 10:9-13), recognizing Him for Who He is is absolutely necessary. Anyone less than God Himself could not redeem mankind from sin.

May God open the eyes of the unbelievers to see Him clearly. The truth of His nature needs not to be clouded by suspicion. It must be embraced with hearts that are open toward God, that do not put their human thoughts above God’s everlasting, unchangeable truth.

Part I: The Father is God

Part II: Jesus is God

Part III: The Holy Spirit is God

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6 comments so far

  1. David on

    Genesis 1:26 is often used to prove the trinity. However, it cannot be used to prove trinitarianism since the writer of Genesis (an early Israelite Jew) wasn’t a trinitarian and had no concept of a three-in-one God. So then, who is the Elohim (plural for god) referring to when he says “we” and “our” in Genesis 1:26?

  2. Damien T Garofalo on

    Hi David,

    thanks for the comment. I agree that Gen 1:26 is no proof text for the Trinity. As you can see, my comments aren’t too technical about this. I know there is disagreement from all sides (trinitarian and non) concerning the nature of the use of Elohim, the plurality of intensity. But my view is unashamedly in faith, not higher criticism. That is to say, believing that “all scripture is God breathed”, the perspective of the non-trinitarian Jew who wrote this (Moses, who I believe is now a trinitarian) has little bearing. Yes, authorship matters. In fact, it matters a lot in dealing with context. But contextually, Moses wasn’t there to describe this event. Scripturally, he was the vehicle through which God wrote these words of Genesis. Therefore, in this instance, Moses has little to do with what is being said.

    Since I believe that the trinity is a biblical concept (as articulated in this series), I am admittedly reading back into the OT. This is technically circular, but not if you believe that the New Testament is the OT in full bloom. Jesus fulfills the law, and things in the OT become much more clear in the NT. I don’t think that the OT was written for people to believe in the Trinity as expounded by Christians today, but I do believe we find it explicitly stated in the NT, and then as we look back into the OT, especially verses like Gen 1:26, we find that the data conform to this concept.

    that’s my take, David. I know there are other views out there just as viable, even from triniatrians. But I stand by that Elohim was referring to Himself in His divine plurality. What do you take it as? Are you a trinitarian? Thanks again.

    • David on

      I take “elohim” in the literal, straightforward sense of the word – as the plural word for god. Therefore, the text reads: Then the gods (elohim) said “Let us make man in our image…..” If we just look at it like that, then there’s no need to try to prove that this verse is referring to a single god speaking to himself in three persons. I was a christian for 36 years until about a year ago when I began examining the bible closer. I began looking at it, not through the eyes of faith (because the eyes of faith can see whatever it wants) but examining it historically and logically. If a mormon would try to explain the story of how Joseph Smith received the Book of Mormon, you would (hopefully) look at it logically and historically and (presumably) come to the conclusion that it’s not true because the facts aren’t there. This is the way I now approach the bible. As I began using this method of examining the bible, the beliefs I had as a christian began to crumble. By the way, thank you for your response. I’m glad we can talk about these things in a civilized way.

  3. Damien T Garofalo on

    Yes, David, I too thank you for being civil about this.

    I’m glad you examine the Bible carefully, though it’s obvious I am sorry you left the Christian faith. I hope you consider all sides – there are a lot of surface level pop apologists out there (like me!), but there are also a lot of in-depth Christian scholars that I hope you have looked into to or will look into. There are some historic and logical problems in simply thinking Elohim means multiple gods in this instance. There are also many who look at the bible closer, and they have a different outcome.

    If you left Christianity because of historic and logical reasons, why did you embrace it in the first place? See, I believe whole-heartedly that Christianity will stand up to scrutiny. But I don’t believe it’s primarily intellectual, but spiritual. My being a Christian isn’t a result of studying evidence, it is a work of the Spirit. My soul is drawn to Christ. It’s about Him. I love Him, I follow Him. And even in doing so, I admit I don’t have all the answers. His own disciples didn’t have all the answers. They doubted at times. But they trusted in Him! I believe there’s ample evidence to believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ, the Son of the Living God, the Lamb slain to take away the sins of the world. Even if your questions about the Bible are never satisfied, I exhort you to consider that Christianity is all about Christ, the One who will never leave nor forsake you!

  4. David on

    You asked: If you left Christianity because of historic and logical reasons, why did you embrace it in the first place?

    I grew up in a christian home. I embraced it because that’s what I was taught to believe by my parents then later by sunday school teachers and pastors. A child will believe whatever his or her parents teach them. After all, they are children and trust that their parents know what they’re talking about. It’s only when one becomes an adult that one questions everything.
    For example, I can teach my daughter that Joseph Smith received divine revelation from the angel Moroni and that the Book of Mormon is the true word of god. She’ll believe that because she’s a child and trusts her daddy. But, when she grows up, she may examine the Joseph Smith account and realize he was a fraud.
    It’s because the bible has so many discrepancies and cannot be trusted historically or scientifically that I am no longer a christian. I one believed that god’s word would’ve stood up to that kind of scrutiny, but it didn’t. Beliefs of faith should stand up to reasonable doubt, but in the bible’s case, it doesn’t.

  5. Damien T Garofalo on

    Well, I admire your honesty. You know I disagree with your conclusions. I believe the Bible does stand up to intense scrutiny. I believe that the overwhelming majority of alleged discrepancies can be explained. I believe it is historically and even scientifically accurate. But it would be dishonest for me to say I have no doubts myself. Any Christian who says he has no doubts is deceiving himself.

    If Christianity were all about woodenly logical and scientific terms, it wouldn’t be a spiritual movement. That’s why it is so imperative to start with Christ. He is perfect. He is historical. He is real. He has no discrepancies. Even at times when I may doubt the Bible, doubt some theology, doubt various sectors of Christendom, doubt my way of life, etc. I can say “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” Doubts don’t negate Christianity – in fact they are a part of what Christianity is: not a collection of supersaints who’ve got it all figured out, but sinners saved by grace who cling to the Lord Jesus and trust He will take care of the rest. Sure, I’m delighted to participate in apologetic endeavors in which the credibility of the Bible and Christianity is vindicated, but if I start there, I’ve got no real heart in this; it’s all intellectual. It must begin with God.


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