The Trinity

The gospel of the Bible is a trinitarian gospel. It proclaims Father, Son and Holy Spirit; three persons existing in one Godhead. This truth forms the foundation of Christian faith and the knowledge of it is based upon the revelation God has given in His word. The Westminster Confession of 1646 states:


'In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost...'


Godhead refers to the divine nature. The English word Godhead is found three times in the King James Bible and has been used by the translators to express the being (Acts 17:29), nature (Romans 1:20) and attributes (Colossians 2:9) of deity. We as humans possess a human nature, we are part of humanity. The three persons of the Godhead posses a divine nature and each share the attributes of deity.

There is only one Godhead consisting of three distinct persons who in order of revelation are the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and each share the essence, equality and eternity of deity. They are not three gods but one God existing in trinity each member of which has their own personality, will and function, yet they are ever existing and acting in perfect unity and harmony. The error of modalism asserts that the trinity only exists in three modes or aspects and that God is the Father, is the Son and is the Spirit, acting out whichever role He chooses as and when appropriate. Such is foreign to the teaching of scripture and makes a mockery of the persons of the Godhead.


When the Westminster Confession places 'God' before each divine person it does not mean that each is a god nor does it mean that God is each, rather it is attributing the divine nature to each member of the trinity who exist eternally together in one Godhead.

And so the Westminster Confession continues:


'The Father is of none, neither begotten, not proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father; (John 1:14, 18) the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son (John 15:26, Gal. 4:6).' 

It's of course legitimate to refer to God and be thinking only of the Father. This is what we read in the New Testament - John 3:16; 20:17; 2 Corinthians 1:2; Ephesians 1:3; Philippians 1:3 etc. Being 'scriptural' in these fundamental subjects is all important as it is
scripture that guides our thoughts and guards our language in matters that deserve and demand the utmost reverence.

The Old Testament Record

 

The Jewish Shema (after the word Hear [Hebrew shama˒]) declares: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord: And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might' (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). This states the unique and

absolute identity of Israel's God; He alone was Jehovah and therefore the sole object of their worship. What's more, Moses reminded Israel that 'The Lord Himself is God in heaven above and on the earth beneath; there is no other' (Deuteronomy 4:39). Monotheism - one God is the theology of the entire Bible and polytheism - a multiplicity of gods is falsehood and idolatry. The revelation of 'one Lord' to Israel, however, does not exclude the concept of trinity, the truth of which is evident elsewhere in the Old Testament record.

 

What then is the nature of God who revealed Himself to Israel? The word for God in Deuteronomy 6:4 is Elohim which is plural in form and while it indicates sovereignty, power and majesty there certainly is in it a hint that the plurality of Elohim exists in trinity. We first encounter Elohim in Genesis 1:1 concerning divine creation: 'In the beginning God (Elohim) created the heaven and the earth' and it is followed by the reference to the 'Spirit of God (Elohim)' moving on the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2). Then in Genesis 1:26 we read: 'And God (Elohim) said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.' To whom does the 'us' and 'our' refer? They clearly correspond to the plural Elohim and in this statement we see the reality of trinity acting in unity regarding the creation of humankind. Indeed, in light of the fullness of New Testament revelation concerning the three persons of the Godhead there can be no doubt about the meaning of the words recorded here in the first chapter of the Bible.

 

Another very interesting Old Testament scripture is Psalm 2. It's a Messianic Psalm proclaiming the rule of the Lord's Anointed despite the fierce opposition of His enemies. The Lord speaks with certainty: 'Yet I have set My king upon My holy hill of Zion' (v 6). The divine pronouncement simply awaits fulfilment in a future day! The Messiah then speaks remarkable words: 'I will declare the decree: The Lord hath said unto Me, "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee..."' (v 7). The Messiah is the Son of the Father as Hebrews 1:5 makes abundantly clear by quoting Psalm 2:7 as proof. This Psalm, written some 1000 years before Christ came, anticipates the incarnation and resurrection of the Son both of which are necessary events toward His ultimate reign as the 'King of Kings and Lord of Lords.

The New Testament Revelation

 

The revelation of the trinity working in unity to fulfil the divine plan of redemption begins with the incarnation of the Son. When Gabriel addressed Mary regarding the uniqueness of her pregnancy and the one to whom she would give birth, he informed her: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Highest will overshadow you; therefore, also, that Holy One who is to be born will be called the Son of God" (Luke 1:35-36 NKJV).

 

The occasion of the baptism of Jesus gives us a clear view of the trinity in action as He commenced His public ministry in the land of Israel. The gospel of Matthew records: 'And Jesus, when He was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto Him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon Him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased' (Matthew 3:16-17).

 

The book of Hebrews states the following concerning the death of Christ: 'For if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a heifer, sprinkling the unclean, sanctifies for the purifying of the flesh, how much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?' (Hebrews 9:13-14 NKJV). The Son in the power of the Holy Spirit offered Himself as a perfect and unblemished sacrifice before God the Father for our cleansing.

 

Matthew's record of the Lord's great commission to the apostles reads: 'And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen' (Matthew 28:18-20 NKJV). Note the singular name of the three persons of the trinity indicating their united identity. In baptism the believer is expressing association with the very Godhead.

 

John, the seer of Patmos, who received and recorded the 'Revelation of Jesus Christ' writes a trinitarian greeting to the seven assemblies in the Roman province of Asia Minor in the following words: 'Grace be unto you, and peace, from Him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before His throne; And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth' (Revelation 1:4-5a). 'Him which is and which was and which is to come' corresponds to and expounds the Old Testament name Jehovah mostly translated, 'The Lord.' 'The seven Spirits which are before His throne' expresses the fullness of the power and the  completeness of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. The threefold designation of 'Jesus Christ' amplifies the glory of His person which is fittingly followed by a beautiful doxology of praise to Him (vv 5b-6). This greeting therefore forms one of the most powerful trinitarian statements of the Bible.

 

How Should I Respond?

 

Again it must be stressed that the truth of the holy trinity is known because of divine revelation, not human reasoning or investigation. It is revelation to be accepted by faith in the recognition that there is a level beyond which we cannot go in our understanding because of our finite minds. Proud men often think they know better than the Bible and what they don't understand they dismiss as meaningless or impossible rather than yielding in humble submission to the glory of almighty God. Arrogance is always the road to ruin.

 

Worship is the proper response of the human heart and worship begins with a recognition of what I am and who God is. True worshipers are those who have submitted in repentance before God, accepted His Son as Lord and Saviour by faith, and have experienced the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

 

Aarron Colgan.

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