(…continued) Far better than attempting any theological or philosophical explanation of the Trinity, is to simply say what the Bible says. The Bible maintains from beginning to end that there is one God, and yet, even a casual reading of the Bible reveals that there is more to it than that. From the very beginning we see it. Genesis 1:26 says: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image.’” Us? Our? That is plural. There is more than one being in on this decision. But then verse 27 says, “So God created man in HIS own image.” His. That is singular. One God. Verses one and two of that same chapter say that in the beginning GOD created the heavens and the earth, and then, that the SPIRIT of God was hovering over the waters. And in John 1:1, also speaking of the creation of the world, says (clearly referring to Jesus), “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” It goes on to say that all things were made through Jesus. There you have it. Father, Son, and Spirit, all present from the very beginning.
Even though God is referred to in the plural in Genesis one, the rest of the Old Testament does emphasize the singularity of God. The Shema, that most basic Old Testament confessions of faith, says, “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One” (Deuteronomy 6:4). One God.
That was simple enough for a few thousand years. But then Jesus came saying things like “I and the Father are One,” and at the same time, praying to the Father, even as he died. Then Jesus said he would send the Holy Spirit, so we have another distinct person. Yet, insisted Jesus, still one God.
The life of Jesus bears witness to the Trinity. He gives all kinds of hints along the way that he is God. Jesus forgives sins, he said he was here before Abraham, he said, ‘I and the Father are one,’ and so forth. And yet, he prays to the Father, and he says that after he is gone from the disciples, he will send to them the Spirit.
Of the four Gospel writers, John is the one who delves deepest into this mystery. John was writing a half century after Jesus rose from the dead, and the church was by that time firmly established in many places in the Roman Empire. Also by that time it had begun facing some sophisticated questions and criticisms from unbelievers, along with some distortions of the message from within the church by misguided believers. John wrote not only to retell the story of Jesus, but to respond to some of these new challenges.
John begins his account by symbolically referring to Jesus as ‘the Word.’ Jesus had taught the disciples that he and the heavenly Father were one and the same. Jesus also taught the disciples that he was not just ‘born’ in Bethlehem, but that he had existed from the very beginning of time with God; and was, in fact, God. The birth of the little baby Jesus in Bethlehem was the result of God’s decision to visit his Creation. Not only that, but there would be still another visitor, not in the flesh, but in Spirit. In John 14:26 Jesus said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things.” This gets us into mysteries beyond our understanding. But the New Testament accounts leave us with a description of God that we call the doctrine of the Trinity; one God in three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The words are familiar, but not even the most brilliant theologians have fully comprehended it.
John was not trying to invent something new. He was simply presenting the truth of God as it was made visible to him in Jesus and taught by Jesus. He saw Jesus work miracle after miracle, he heard Jesus say that he was God, and then he saw Jesus killed, and then alive again, risen from the dead. John’s Gospel is his attempt to tell the story as he saw it, explaining it the best he can within the limitations of human language and understanding (and, as inspired by the Holy Spirit).
It must be readily acknowledged that though all these thing imply a Triune God, the New Testament does not describe a doctrine of the Trinity. There are, however, a couple significant references to the Trinity. In II Corinthians 13:14 Paul concludes his letter with a benediction in God’s name, saying, “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” The one God is named by three names.
Matthew 28:18-20 is one of the most important texts in all of Scripture. There, in these last words of Jesus to his disciples, he is giving to them and to all believers in all ages who will come after them, his instructions. In what has become known as The Great Commission Jesus tells them to “Go and make disciples of all nations.” How are they to do that? Well, by baptizing them and by teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded them. And how should that baptizing should be done? It should be done in the NAME of the one true God. And what is that name? Well, there are three names. Jesus commands us to make disciples and baptize them “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” (continued…)
Deuteronomy 6:4 — Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.
John 10:29 — (Jesus said), “I and the Father are one.”
John 16:13a — (Jesus said), “When he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.”
Praise God, from whom all blessings flow;
Praise him, all creatures here below;
Praise him above, ye heavenly host;
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.
–The Common Doxology, 1674, Thomas Ken