A major doctrine in the Christian faith and one that is absolutely essential is the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity, although not explicitly stated in scripture, is the idea that there is one God, yet in three distinct persons. The three distinct persons are God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. In other words, the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God. God’s being is not divided into parts, but the three persons of the Godhead are all fully God. Wayne Grudem defines the doctrine of the Trinity as “God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God” (Grudem, 269). God is the only being who can be three, yet one. This concept is not easily understood because of our finite minds, however, this is what we see taught about God in the Scriptures and for that reason we must affirm it. Throughout this article I am going to lay out evidence for the doctrine of the Trinity and explain the different roles of each person of the Triune God.
The Trinity in Creation
In the first chapter of the Bible we see the plurality of God in the account of creation. “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.” (Genesis 1:26). This shows us that even before creation there was more than one person involved in the Godhead. So who were those involved if not only God the Father? Moving to the New Testament, in John 1:1-3 we see that, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” Moving ahead to verse 14 we see that “the Word” in verse 1 is a reference to the Son of God, who is Jesus. “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” Scripture clearly teaches us that Jesus was involved in creation. So what about the Spirit? Let's look back at the creation account in Genesis. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters” (Genesis 1:1-2). The Spirit was also active and present in creation. As we look at Scripture as a whole we can undoubtedly affirm the plurality of the Godhead before, during, and after creation.
The Oneness of God
Up until this point, we can clearly see that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead involved in creation: Father, Son, and Spirit. Doesn’t that mean there are really just three Gods working together? According to the doctrine of the Trinity that is not the case, and it’s also not at all what we see taught throughout Scripture. The Shema was a Jewish confession of faith that begins with a statement from Deuteronomy 6:4 which says, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.” We see other references to God being one throughout the Old Testament in Isaiah 45:5-6 and 1 Kings 8:60. However, this idea that God is one is not only found in the Old Testament but it’s also found in the New Testament. “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder” (James 2:19) and in Romans 3:30, “since God is one—who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith.” The oneness of God and the three distinct persons of God are affirmed throughout all of Scripture. This is a paradox we cannot fully comprehend but we must fully affirm.
Distinctions Between Father, Son, & Spirit
The summary of the Trinity, as laid out by Wayne Grudem in his writings of Systematic Theology, is: God is three persons, each person is fully God, and there is one God. Although, we do affirm the difference between the persons of the Trinity this does not mean that one is superior or better than the other. They all three have full deity but each have different roles within the triune Godhead. “Yet we must also affirm that there are no differences in deity, attributes, or essential nature between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Each person is fully God and has all the attributes of God. The distinctions between the members of the Trinity are in the ways they relate to each other and to the creation. In those relationships they carry out roles that are appropriate to each person” (Grudem, 300). In Matthew 28:19 Jesus clearly portrays the distinction between the persons of the Trinity in the Great Commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Jesus shows the deity and distinction of each the Father, Son, and Spirit.
God the Father
God the Father is the first person of the Trinity and is many times referred to as simply “God” throughout Scripture. God the Father is not a father because He created us, but He has always been God the Father because of his relationship with God the Son and God the Spirit. They have always existed together in a perfect unity throughout eternity.“The fatherhood of God is primary. The fatherhood of God is the first form of fatherhood, preexisting all other creaturely forms of fatherhood. Before the existence of creation, and thus before the existence of craturely fathers and creaturely sons, the Father and his only begotten Son dwelled in eternal, mutual delight in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” (Swain, 70). One role of the Father is that in creation we see that He spoke the world into existence. Another role of the Father is the plan of redemption for His people, including the sending of God the Son to be the redeemer. In John 3:16-17 we see that there was a Father-Son relationship before the incarnation of Jesus. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God gave his Son and sent Him into the world. A key point to keep in mind is that while the father-son relationship has always existed it has never changed or shifted roles, the Father can never be the Son and the Son can never be the Father. “The Son did not become the Son when the Father sent him into the world. Rather, the great love of God is shown in the fact that the one who was always Father gave the one who was always his only Son” (Grudem, 300).
God the Son
Jesus, the Son of God, is the eternal offspring of the Father and the second person of the Trinity. He was not created or made but He was begotten in eternity past. “Beget” means to produce and God the Father eternally begets the Son. “The mystery of the Son’s eternal begetting is one that mortal minds cannot fathom. Because it is a divine begetting, it is an unsearchable deep” (Swain, 87). The role of the Son in redemption was that He redeems the elect of God the Father through His death on the cross, paying the penalty of our sin and appeasing the wrath of God. Jesus is fully God in the flesh and in no way is inferior to God the Father or God the Spirit. “He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs'” (Hebrews 1:3-4). The Father loves the Son and finds eternal pleasure and has placed Him at His right hand forevermore. Through the Son all things were created (John 1:2) and are being sustained.
God the Holy Spirit
The third person of the Trinity is God the Holy Spirit who proceeds from God the Father and God the Son. The Holy Spirit is God, not just a force that God uses. In Acts 5, Scripture clearly portrays the Holy Spirit as God, “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God’” (Acts 5:3-4). In verse 3, Peter said that Ananias had lied to the Spirit and in verse 4 he said that He had lied to God. Peter is equating the Holy Spirit with God, they are one. We also see the Holy Spirit present in the creation account by “hovering” over the waters. The Spirit also has the role of regenerating new life in the redemption of God’s people. “Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:5-8). The Spirit sanctifies us and works through us to bring about the plan of the Father. Other roles of the Spirit include interceding, teaching, bearing witness, and giving gifts to the people of God.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not an easy concept to grasp but it is absolutely essential to affirm because it is what we see taught in the Bible. Those who reject the Trinity often claim that there are actually three gods. Others diminish the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit by claiming they are inferior to God the Father or were created by Him. Some claim that Jesus was simply a good man or prophet. All of these ideas are false and must be rejected because Scripture teaches that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are all fully God and have always existed together in eternity past. There is one God in three persons. We must affirm the doctrine of the Trinity although we are incapable of fully understanding it or knowing everything about it.
Grudem, Wayne A. Systematic Theology Second Edition. Zondervan Academic, 2020.Swain, Scott R. The Trinity: An Introduction. Crossway, 2020.