“In an email we received, LDS apologist D.L. Barksdale said, “The homoousion Trinitarian dogma is heretical to anyone who cherishes the Bible. It is an unbiblical doctrine…”
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons tend to disregard the Trinity, believing that Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct gods, with the Father being a greater God than the other two. Jehovah’s Witnesses especially emphasize the subordination of the Godhead, believing Jesus to be Michael the Archangel – a created being, and a lesser “god” than Jehovah. Mormon doctrine is polytheistic (worship of multiple gods), though some Mormons will stress that their belief is henotheistic (belief in multiple gods, but worship of only one).
Mohammad’s misunderstanding of the Trinity was apparently affected by the hyperdulia veneration of Mary seen in the Eastern and Roman Catholic churches, as the Qur’an accuses Christians of believing the Trinity to be composed of God the Father, Jesus, and Mary.
Indeed, the doctrine of the Trinity can pose a stumbling block for some people. A Jehovah’s Witness sent us an email that included the following (the English is poor, but you’ll see the point): “And when I can not find in any Bible that I read that there is a 3 headed god that will resurrect anyone on this earth, both now or ever. If this 3 headed god is your belief? I have never read about such a god in any Christian Bible that I have ever read!” As I told this man, we agree that the Bible does not teach of a three-headed god. That sounds more akin to the hydra of Greek mythology. Yet this illustrates the extent of the misunderstandings. Even Christian churches have been victimized by erroneous doctrines such as modalism, particularly Oneness theology.
We may never fully understand the nature of God until we get into heaven. God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal. Our finite created minds are unable to fully grasp these characteristics of God. However, it is possible to have a basic understanding of the triune nature of God, and to be able to defend this doctrine with the Word of God. In this article, we’ll assess the Scriptural evidence and put the pieces together until they form a full picture. A triune God will be the only possible verdict based on an objective analysis of the Scriptural evidence.
The doctrine of the Trinity can be summed up as follows: Within the one Being that is God, there exist eternally three coequal and coeternal Persons, namely, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. In order to prove this doctrine we must prove the following:
There is only one God
The Father is God
Jesus is God
The Holy Spirit is God
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct Persons.
Each point above is very important, and we will clearly illustrate each. Heresy arises when these distinctions are blurred. For instance, modalism (also known as Oneness theology) would agree with items one through four, but item five is where modalism fails. However, as James White said in regards to the doctrine of the Trinity, “For some reason many feel that there is a hierarchy of ‘error’ when it comes to the Trinity…. We are to worship God in spirit and in truth, and two-thirds of the truth is not a valid substitute, no matter which one-third of His truth we choose to reject.”
There is a treasure trove of Scriptures to support each of the points we’ll be studying. To keep this article at a reasonable length, where there are several relevant verses, I’ll limit the full verse quotation to two verses (in NIV, unless stated otherwise), and give the Scripture references for the rest.
1. There is only one God:
Islam, Judaism, and Christianity are known as the big three monotheistic religions. You won’t find many arguments among Muslims, Jews, and Christians that there is more than one God, except perhaps among some aberrant sects. Nevertheless, let us establish this Scripturally before we move on to areas where disagreements will arise.
A. There is only one God:
“You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35
“This is what the LORD says- Israel’s King and Redeemer, the LORD Almighty: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God.” – Isaiah 44:6
Other Old Testament Verses: Deut. 4:39; 32:39; 2 Sam. 22:32; Isa. 37:20; 43:10; 44:6-8; 45:5, 14, 21-22; 46:9.
“How can you believe if you accept praise from one another, yet make no effort to obtain the praise that comes from the only God?” – John 5:44
“…since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith.” Romans 3:30
Other New Testament Verses: Rom. 16:27; 1 Cor. 8:4-6; Gal. 3:20; Eph. 4:6, 1 Tim. 1:17; 2:5; James 2:19; Jude 25.
B. There is only one true God:
“But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God, the eternal King. When he is angry, the earth trembles; the nations cannot endure his wrath.” – Jeremiah 10:10
“We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.” – 1 John 5:20.
Other verses: 2 Chron. 15:3; John 17:3; 1 Thess. 1:9.
C. All other so-called “gods” are false gods.
“For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” – Psalm 96:5
“So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one.” – 1 Corinthians 8:4
Other verses: Deut. 32:21; 1 Sam. 12:21; Isa. 37:19; 41:23-24, 29; Jer. 2:11; 5:7; 16:20; 1 Cor. 10:19-20.
The verses above are clear evidence that there is only one God. This is known as monotheism. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are known as the three great monotheistic religions. However, Islam and Judaism will fall off as we continue our support of the Trinity.
2. There is a plurality to God.
The Hebrew word for God is el in its singular form. The most common form used for God is elohim, which is plural in form. How can there be plural form used for only one God? Some suggest that the answer is found in the three persons of the Trinity. Others contend that the plural construct denotes a fullness of deity as opposed to plurality. I submit that both interpretations are correct. I’m getting ahead of myself now though. Rather than look at all the verses that use the plural elohim, let’s look at other verses that point to a plurality within the one God
“Let us make man in our image” – Genesis 1:26, emphasis added.
“God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us…’” – Genesis 3:22, emphasis added.
Some would say that God could be speaking to the angels in these verses, but that’s simply not correct. God was speaking to co-creator(s) in these verses (“Let us make man…”). Who could be a co-creator? Not the angels. The answer is found later in this article.
3. The Father is God.
This isn’t really an item that is in question. While God the Father is only known as the Father in the New Testament, Christians, Jews, Muslims, and pseudo-Christian cults understand that the Father in the New Testament is the Yahweh of the Old Testament, though some disagree with the characterization of “Father”. However, it is important to establish that the Father of the New Testament is the true God referred to in the Old Testament, known often as Yahweh, or “Jehovah”.
A. The Father is God.
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,” – 2 Corinthians 1:3
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ.” – Ephesians 1:3
Other verses: John 17:3; 1 Cor. 8:6; 1 Peter 1:3; (Note: Some verses seem to indicate that Jesus is not God at first glance. These will be explained later).
B. The God of the Old Testament is known as Yahweh/Jehovah (“The LORD”).
“You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other…. Acknowledge and take to heart this day that the LORD is God in heaven above and on the earth below. There is no other.” – Deuteronomy 4:35, 39.
“Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” – Psalm 100:3
Other verses: Gen. 9:26; 24; Exo. 3:14-18; 4:5; 2 Sam. 7:22, 25.
From the verses above, it is clear that Yahweh/Jehovah in the Old Testament is the one God. It is also clear that the Father in the New Testament is that one God. Now, let’s look at whether Jesus Christ is God. Remember, there is only one God. There is also a mysterious plurality to this one God. We have established that the Father is Yahweh, the God of the Old Testament. We now explore the plurality in the one true God.
4. Jesus is God.
There is a great deal of Scriptural evidence that Jesus Christ is God. The evidence is comprised not only of specific statements, but also in prophecy fulfillment and his attributes. Let’s first look at some of explicit Scriptural evidence. In this section, we won’t limit ourselves to only giving the text of two verses.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.” – John 1:1
“Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” – John 20:28
I want to pause just a moment to discuss the verses above. The Greek word for God is theos. In John 1:1, we read that the Word (Jesus) was with theos and was indeed theos. Jesus was (and is) God! This is a very powerful statement! The word theos is used not only in John 1:1, but also in verse 18 and in John 20:28. Theos is used in the New Testament in reference to Jehovah/Yahweh God. Theos is also used in reference to Jesus. We’re beginning to see the plurality found within the one God.
“You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” – Revelation 4:11 (the words of the 24 elders to Jesus).
“…Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.” – Acts 20:28
Once again, in the verses above Jesus is referred to as theos. In Acts 20:28, we know that Jesus shed His blood for the church, and as one person of the triune God, this action is the action of God. Now let’s look at some common compound references to Jesus:
“…the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” – Titus 2:13
“…To those who through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” – 2 Peter 1:1
In the passages above, both “God” and “Savior” are used in reference to Jesus Christ. There is no division of the clause. Scholar Robert Reymond writes, “The two nouns [‘God’ and ‘Savior’] both stand under the regimen of the single definitive article preceding ‘God,’ indicating…that they are to be construed corporately, not separately, or that they have a single referent.” In other words, attempts to divide this clause into a reference to God and a separate reference to Jesus as Savior flies against the Greek grammatical construct. These verses provide additional powerful and clear evidence that Jesus is Jehovah/Yahweh God. Let’s now turn our attention to more verses that reveal Jesus to be Jehovah/Yahweh.
“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved…. for, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’” – Romans 10:9,13. Note: Paul reveals Jesus to be the same “Lord” referred to in Joel 2:32, which he quotes. In Joel 2:32, “LORD” is Jehovah/Yahweh.
“…that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” – Philippians 2:10-11. Note: “Lord” = Jehovah/Yahweh.
“…now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.” – 1 Peter 2:3. This verse is taken almost identically from Psalms 34:8, where “Lord” is Jehovah/Yahweh. From the verses that follow verse 3, it is clear this is a reference to Jesus.
Another way we know that Jesus is Jehovah/Yahweh comes from the fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy. Zechariah 12:10 says, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son.” This verse is part of an oracle given by Jehovah/Yahweh. This passage starts off in verse 1, “This is the word of the LORD concerning Israel. The LORD, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the spirit of man within him, declares…” Jehovah/Yahweh prophesies that He will be pierced. It is widely accepted among scholarly circles that this was fulfilled in the crucifixion and spearing of Jesus Christ. This is confirmed in Revelation 1:7 wherein we read concerning Jesus, “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” This is important enough to go over again. In Zechariah 12:10, Jehovah/Yahweh prophesies that He (Jehovah/Yahweh) will be pierced, and people will mourn for Him. Jesus Christ is pierced through his hands and feet at his crucifixion, and pierced through the side with a spear while on the cross. Revelation 1:7 confirms this fulfillment of prophecy. Conclusion? Jesus Christ is Jehovah/Yahweh!
Another evidence that Jesus is Jehovah/Yahweh comes from His role as Savior. Isaiah 43:11 says, “I, even I, am the LORD, and apart from me there is no savior.” Yet Jesus is referred to many times in the New Testament as our Savior (Luke 2:11; John 4:42; Acts 13:23; Eph. 5:23; Phi. 3:20; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:10; Tit 1:4; 2:13; 3:6; 2 Pet. 1:1,11; 2:20; 3:2,18; 1 John 4:14).
Jesus caused no small uproar among the Jews of the day because He accepted praise and worship – blasphemous if He were not God! As we have seen, only God is the savior of men. Matthew 21:1-11 describes Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. He came riding in on a donkey, in fulfillment of an Old Testament messianic prophecy (Zec. 9:9). As Jesus rode in, we find the crowds that surrounded him shouting “Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” “Hosanna in the highest!” Webster’s 1913 dictionary defined Hosanna as “A Hebrew exclamation of praise to the Lord.” The word is derived from a Hebrew word that meant “Save us,” in a prayer directed to God. This shows that the crowd viewed Jesus as God and Savior. It is important to note that Jesus did not rebuke the crowd for this praise. In verse 15, we find that the chief priests and Pharisees were outraged and indignant at this (because, as we said, this would be blasphemy for a mere man). Children had followed Jesus in to the temple are and were still shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” In verse 16, they asked Jesus if He could hear what the children were saying. No doubt they were shocked that he would not have straightened out the blasphemy of these little urchins. But Jesus did not rebuke the children. Instead, He answered, “Yes. Have you never read, ‘From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise’?” Additionally, in John 9:35-39 we read the following exchange:
35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. [emphasis added]
39Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.“
Jesus accepted worship. This is not adoration of a mere prophet, but praise and worship due only to God. Jesus was either God or He was crazy, and there is ample evidence against the latter and in support of the former. Further evidence comes from the fact that Jesus has many of the attributes of God:
Creator (John 1:3, 1 Cor. 8:6; Col 1:16-17; Heb. 1:2; Rev. 3:14)
Unchanging (Heb. 1:10-12; 13:8)
Eternal (John 1:1; 8:58; 17:5; Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:2)
Omniscient (John 16:30)
Omnipresent (Matt. 18:20; 28:20; John 3:13; Eph. 1:23; 4:10; Col. 3:11)
It is clear from the Scriptural evidence above that Jesus is God. He is the LORD (Jehovah/Yahweh) of the Old Testament, and therefore is the one true elohim or theos. He shares this role as God with the Father. As we are about to see, He also shares this role with the Holy Spirit.
5. The Holy Spirit is God
Less Scripture is dedicated to the Holy Spirit, but there is enough to conclude that He too is God. In Acts 5:3-4, we see the Holy Spirit being equated with God:
“Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’” [emphasis added]
Paul clearly and explicitly equated the Holy Spirit with God:
“Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” – 2 Corinthians 3:17-18
Additional evidence of the deity of the Holy Spirit comes from the shared attributes of the deity. The Holy Spirit is:
Eternal (Heb. 9:14)
Omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11)
Omnipresent (Psa. 139:7)
Savior (Rom. 8:1-27)
In addition to the attributes above, we find the Holy Spirit was involved in creation (Gen. 1:2; Psa. 104:30), the incarnation (Matt. 1:18,20; Luke 1:35), and the resurrection (Rom. 1:4; 8:11). This is ample evidence to show that the Holy Spirit is God. We have now proven Scripturally that there is only one God. We have also proven that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can each lay claim to being God. However, one can believe in all this, and still subscribe to the erroneous belief of modalism.
Modalists believe that there is only one God, but believe God to be comprised of one Person who simply manifests Himself at different times through Father, Son, or Holy Spirit. In other words, modalists believe that God is one in substance as well as essence – the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not distinct persons. As we shall see, modalism fails because the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are indeed three distinct persons.
6. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are three distinct persons.
A. Jesus is not the Father: First, let’s turn our attention to Matthew 28:19, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”. The grammatical construction of this verse is very revealing with regards to Trinitarian doctrine. First, each person of the Trinity is identified individually with use of the definite article preceding each (the Father…the Son…the Holy Spirit). The use of the definite article for each person of the Trinity identifies each as unique and distinct from the others. Yet at the same time, this verse groups each into a singular entity by use of the singular form “the name of”. What is this name? The singular name of God is Yahweh/Jehovah, and the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit share that name. Other verses identify the Father and the Son as two separate persons (John 3:17, 35; 5:22-23, 31-32; 8:16-18; 11:41-42; 12:28; 14:31; 17:1-26; Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 15:24-28; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; 4:4; Eph. 1:2; 6:23; Phil. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1-2; 1 Tim. 1:1-2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Phm. 3; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:2; 1 John 4:10; 2 John 3).
B. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit: The first evidence of this is discussed in detail in the preceding paragraph – Matthew 28:19 identifies the Son and the Holy Spirit as separate persons, using definite articles preceding each. Next, Jesus tells us that He would send the Holy Spirit (“When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me.” – John 15:26). This verse is revealing in that each person of the Trinity is mentioned as separate individual persons. Key elements in this verse include 1) Jesus will send the Holy Spirit, 2) from the Father, 3) the Holy Spirit will go out from the Father, 4) and will testify about Jesus. Another verse that identifies Jesus and the Holy Spirit separately is John 16:7, “But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” Here we have two important elements: 1) Jesus will go away, and 2) send the Holy Spirit. Since Jesus arose and ascended in his physical human body, the Spirit He sends is not Jesus Himself. Another important verse is John 14:16, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever” (emphasis added). Once again, the elements are here to show that Jesus, the Father, and the Holy Spirit are separate. Jesus said He would ask the Father. If Jesus were simply a manifestation of the Father, then He would be asking Himself, which sounds neurotic rather than orthodox. The verse also refers to the Holy Spirit as “another Counselor” separate from Jesus.
C. The Father is not the Holy Spirit: Once again, the first bit of evidence is given in Matthew 28:19 as discussed before. John 14:16, and 15:26 also remain as evidence that the Father and Holy Spirit are distinct persons. As we delved into each verse in the preceding paragraph, we won’t do so again. We also find Paul describing in Romans 8:26-27 that the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with the Father. If the Holy Spirit were the same person as the Father, he would not need to intercede with himself.
Now let’s address another Scripture that makes it clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are three different persons. Luke 3:21-22 covers the baptism of Jesus Christ, “When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’” Each person is described separately here. First, note that Jesus was praying. If Oneness theology were correct, Jesus would be praying to Himself. Once again, that smacks of neurosis. Instead, Jesus was praying to the Father. As He did, the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in a physical manifestation like a dove. The voice of the Father was then heard from Heaven, speaking to the Son. This highlights that each person of the Trinity is unique and separate.
It is clear from a reading of the Bible that there is only one God, known in the Old Testament as Yahweh/Jehovah. It is clear that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are each God (Yahweh). It is also clear, in contrast to Oneness theology (Unitarian modalism), that each person is separate and distinct from the other. One God in three persons – the Biblical Trinity.
Ontology is important in understanding the Trinity. Ontology is the study of “being.” As James White said, “It is vitally important that we recognize the difference between the words Being and Person…. Being is what makes something what it is. Person is what makes someone who he or she is…. when speaking of the Trinity, we speak of one what (the Being of God) and three whos (the three divine Persons). Most cultic rejections of the Trinity focus on blurring the distinction.”
Are you still having a difficult time comprehending the triune nature of God? That’s understandable. The laws to which we are bound define our comprehension. God’s nature transcends these laws. If we could fully comprehend God’s nature, he would cease to be Almighty God. He would be lesser than He truly is. I am a devotee of analogies. One analogy I like to use with regards to the Trinity is my computer. My computer consists of input devices (mouse and keyboard), output devices (monitor, printer, speakers), and the central processing unit. These different components form my one computer. This analogy fails to capture the full complexity of the substance of God, but it can help someone to grasp the basic relationship.
It is true, as so many Mormons, Muslims, and Jehovah’s Witness are inclined to point out, that there is no concise, clear teaching of the Trinity in the New Testament or Old Testament. However, by such reasoning, there is also no clear teaching regarding smoking or illicit drug use. Yet by examining Scripture in its greater context, it is clear that our body is the temple of God (1 Cor. 6:19) and Paul urges us to purify ourselves from things which contaminate the body (2 Cor. 7:1). Similarly, by examining the sum of Scripture in immediate and greater context, it is clear that God is triune. He is one God, eternally existent in three divine persons – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We must be able to defend this biblical doctrine if we are to effectively contend for the truth of the gospel.
[Author’s note: In the coming weeks, we will post a follow-up article to examine and refute the most common objections raised against the Trinity by various cults, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormon Church.]
3. The Hebrew name for God is YHWH – four consonants only. Because of a nearly superstitious fear of taking the Lord’s name in vain, the Jews avoided using this name, and often used the name Adonai. Eventually, the vowels from Adonai were included in YHWH to form Yahowah. Today, this name is often spelled in English, Yahweh. As a human contrivance, Yahowah mutated to Jehovah in some manuscripts. Yahweh and Jehovah are considered synonymous, and mean “The LORD.” The Hebrew word for “God” is el or elohim.
4. In these verses, and the ones that follow, “LORD” is Yahweh/Jehovah, and “God” is elohim. It is important to note that el is singular, but elohim is plural. Since the Bible is clear that there is only one el, the plurality of elohim can present a conundrum. This problem is resolved by the doctrine of the Trinity – three divine Persons in one God. One should also note that the New World Translation (The Bible of the Jehovah’s Witnesses) and the ASV leave out “LORD” and simply include “Jehovah”.
5. Robert L. Reymond, Jesus, Divine Messiah: The New Testament Witness (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1990), p. 276.
6. White, Loving the Trinity