Good morning, everyone! Are you ready to get into some really mind-bending stuff, or is it too early for that? Alright, wake up and get your thinking caps on because today we’re talking about one of the most profound doctrines of Christianity. The Trinity! How many of you struggle to understand the Trinity? Well, technically we all do. It’s a concept that goes beyond human understanding. Perhaps some of you even wonder where we get this idea from. Hopefully what I have to share with you today will help you understand it just a little bit better, or at least show you where exactly our understanding falls short, and reveal to you why we hold this doctrine.
I chose this topic because the Trinity truly matters. It has to do with God’s fundamental nature. It has to do with what God has revealed about Himself, and when God reveals something about Himself, that is a precious thing to be received, meditated on, and guarded. Received, because when God speaks we have to accept what He says whether we get it or not. Meditated on, because it’s important to better know the One we worship. And guarded, because as with all doctrines, opposition rises against it and we need to be equipped to counter that. Unfortunately, opponents of the Holy Trinity have gotten rather loud as of late, and I fear that we’ve taken this doctrine for granted. It may very well be that many of us just aren’t rooted enough in knowledge to handle these critics, and as a result, some may fall into error or be discouraged.
Of course, the Trinity is the doctrine that God exists as one being who is three coequal and coeternal persons. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Now everyone agrees that the Father is God. If there’s a group out there that denies the deity of the Father, I’m not aware of their existence. And frankly, I’m not sure how it would be possible to come to that conclusion. We really only need to examine the scriptures that teach the deity of the Son and the Spirit to get our Trinitarian train rolling.
Let’s start with the Son and see in scripture where Jesus is revealed to be God.
The Book of John is well known for its statements regarding Christ’s deity. In fact, the very beginning of the book includes one. John chapter 1 verses 1 through 5 say this, “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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him not even one thing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life, and the life was the Light of mankind. And the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not grasp it”. Of course, the “Word” here is one of Jesus’ titles. We even see that Jesus, the Word, who is equated with God, made all things. Nothing came into being apart from Him. Right out of the gate, John hits us with such a heavy passage about the deity of Christ that I could probably just pack that topic up right now. Mission accomplished! Ha! But I’ll continue on so we can see some more powerful scriptures in support of Christ’s deity. When we’re done, this will have been but a small sampling. I mean really, the deity of Christ absolutely saturates scripture.
Here’s another from John. Chapter 8 verse 58 says, “Jesus said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I AM.’ ” Here we see that Jesus is pre-existent since He existed before Abraham and that was long before Jesus ever arrived in the flesh. However, the most striking thing here is that Jesus referred to Himself using the sacred name of God. In Exodus 3:14 after Moses asks God what he should call Him, God says, “I AM WHO I AM”. Isn’t it amazing that God simply tells Moses to refer to Him as “I AM”? It reveals so much. It’s a reference to God’s self-existent nature. He simply IS. And in John, Jesus is using this name to refer to Himself. “Before Abraham was, I AM”. It’s no wonder then that the people who didn’t trust in Him picked up stones to throw just after He made this declaration. In their eyes, a man had just blasphemed by declaring Himself equal to God. What they didn’t know, was that Jesus was no blasphemer. He was, in fact, God in the flesh. Later in John 10:33 they specifically accuse Jesus saying, “We are not stoning You for a good work, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God”.
Now, some people don’t accept John as a reliable source. They claim it was written so much later that it can’t possibly be an accurate reflection of Jesus’ life or early Christian thought. Now that’s certainly its own topic, but for our purposes here, we can simply say: alright then, I’ll play your game. We’ll use other books besides John to show the deity of Christ.
Often the book of Mark is thought to be a book in which the deity of Christ is absent. This is not true. Mark has this thing going on where He’s always nudging the audience trying to get people to think hard about the identity of Jesus. One such passage is when Jesus calms the storm. Mark 4:36-41 says, “After dismissing the crowd, they took Him along with them in the boat, just as He was; and other boats were with Him. And a fierce gale of wind developed, and the waves were breaking over the boat so much that the boat was already filling with water.
And yet Jesus Himself was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, do You not care that we are perishing?” And He got up and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Hush, be still.” And the wind died down and it became perfectly calm. And He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They became very much afraid and said to one another, “Who, then, is this, that even the wind and the sea obey Him?”
That last bit there is one of the nudges I was talking about. If you were a first-century Jew reading this you might catch the implication, because God is credited in the Old Testament as having unique authority over the sea. Psalm 89:8-9 says, “LORD God of armies, who is like You, mighty LORD? Your faithfulness also surrounds You. You rule the surging of the sea; When its waves rise, You calm them”. Just after asking, “who is like you?” the author speaks of God’s ability to command the seas.
Now imagine being a Jew there with Jesus when this happened realizing that not only is this man powerful enough to command the sea, but that if He can, that also means He must be God. During the parting of the Red Sea in Exodus, Scripture makes it clear that Moses wasn’t the one with the power. It was God that parted the sea for him. But here in Mark, there’s no mention that God calmed the sea FOR Jesus as if they were separate beings. Rather, Jesus Himself simply gets up and commands the sea to be calm. Jesus had the power and authority. The spotlight was purely on Him. And if Jesus Himself had the power and authority to command the sea, then there’s only one candidate for who He could possibly be. God Himself.
Here’s another passage to support the deity of Christ, this time from the book of Philippians, chapter 2 verses 5 to 8, “Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, as He already existed in the form of God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself by taking the form of a bond-servant and being born in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death: death on a cross.”
Note that this clearly says that before Jesus was incarnate, He already existed equal to God. Here’s a super easy question: Who is equal to God? Only God is like God. As the Psalmist said, “who is like you?” This passage parallels what Jesus said in John 17:5 which reads, “And now You, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world existed”. When we take these two passages together, we see that the glory Jesus shared with the Father before the world even existed, was in fact, equality with God. Jesus was not just a man who was born and then filled with God, He always had the glory rightly belonging to God even before he walked this Earth in the flesh of man. Jesus is God. Amen and amen.
Now let’s take a look at history. You might have heard a few times that the Trinity was made up at the council of Nicaea, or that Christians didn’t start calling Jesus God until long after His crucifixion. I’m going to dispel these myths right now starting with the Council of Nicaea. All sorts of myths have been propagated about this council. It’s gotten to a point where it seems like every group with some kind of aberrant theology has their own little version of what happened there. Here’s what really happened.
In 325 AD, Emperor Constantine of Rome called the Council of Nicaea because his empire was being split by a theological argument between the Christians and the Arians, and he preferred his empire with minimal division. The Arians, named after their leader Arius, believed that although Jesus is God, He’s a created being. In other words, they believed that there was a time when Jesus, despite being deity, did not exist. Obviously, the rest of the Christians took issue with this, for if Jesus was not coeternal, was He really God?
When the Council came together there were three groups, the Arians, the Orthodox, and the Eusebians. The Orthodox and Eusebians agreed on everything except the use of the term Homoousias, which means that Jesus and the Father were of the same substance, since the term had an unfortunate association with a previous heresy called Sabellianism, which taught that the Father and the Son were the same person and therefore not distinct. Although the Eusebians did not like to use the word Homoousias because of this association, they agreed with what the Orthodox meant by it; that the Father and Son were both eternally and truly God.
Now take note of the situation. Everyone at the Council, even the Arians, would tell you that they thought Jesus was God. The problem was that the Arians had a concept of God that rendered Jesus as fundamentally lesser than the Father, which does effectively result in an attack on Christ’s deity. That’s what the debate was about. Also, notice that the heresy of Sabellianism came before this council, and that also was condemned for inadvertently attacking the deity of Christ, even though adherents would have told you they believed Jesus was God.
What this reveals is that in those early centuries, there was no question that Jesus was God, only a debate about what that meant exactly. The Council of Nicaea did not make up the deity of Christ or the Trinity. Early Christians who were opposed to Arianism and Sabellianism, already believed that not only is Jesus God, but that He is coeternal with the Father, coequal with the Father, one with the Father, and yet a separate person from the Father. That sounds very much like what we Trinitarians think of Jesus.
Oh, and by the way, Arius lost at the Council. It was ruled that His views were not in line with historical Christian teachings. Go figure. And no, the Bible wasn’t canonized at the Council, no Constantine didn’t force a particular point of view, and no there was no massacre afterward. For more information I recommend a nice succinct little video on YouTube by Michael Jones also known as InspiringPhilosophy called “The Truth about the Council of Nicaea”, which was one of my sources, and in the description of the video is a list of its sources. Wesley Huff, who is currently going for a PhD in New Testament and Christian Origins also gives a great talk about this on Melissa Dougherty’s YouTube channel in a video called “What Really Happened at the Council of Nicaea?”
Now for the question of whether the idea of Jesus as God developed over time or not.
In a talk called “The Early Creeds: Historical Facts About Jesus from 30 to 55 AD” New Testament scholar Dr. Gary Habermas explains that scholars have discovered these statements of faith or creeds in the scriptures that are older than the scriptures themselves in which they are recorded. These were creeds that the very earliest Christians were repeating. Remember when we talked about that part in Philippians chapter 2 where Jesus is clearly shown to be preexistent and equal to God? That is thought to be one of these creeds or perhaps even an early hymn.
Now, there is some debate about the dating of this creed, but at the very worst, if it turns out that this part of Philippians 2 is not older than the book it’s written in, and Paul himself wrote it, then it is dated to an absolute maximum of thirty-some years after the crucifixion. In summary, this historical information shows that the idea of Jesus being God did not originate around the time of the Council of Nicaea, it in fact goes back to the first century not too long after the cross.
Alright, so Jesus is definitely God. Scripture bears this out, and history shows that early Christians believed it. We have two members of the Trinity confirmed.
So, how about the Holy Spirit?
You may be thinking, “Well we already have two members so how hard is it to think there are three? Do we even need to go over this?” We do, because the deity of the Spirit is often attacked too, and we need to see where we get this from as well. Groups like the Watchtower Organization, or Jehovah’s Witnesses as you may know them, think that the Spirit is some impersonal force. There is even such a thing as Binitarians; folks who believe in the deity of the Father and the Son, but not the Spirit. Frankly, I don’t know how you end up in such a position. Thankfully, the task of proving the Holy Spirit’s deity is very simple. Perhaps even more simple than proving the deity of Christ.
Scripture is exceedingly clear about this, but we’ve got a lot to go through to get the whole picture, so get ready for a whirlwind of passages. I’m going to try to go fast here.
Acts 5:1-4 says this: “But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, and kept back some of the proceeds for himself, with his wife’s full knowledge, and bringing a portion of it, he laid it at the apostles’ feet. But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men, but to God”. Here Peter says that lying to the Holy Spirit is the same as lying to God. That’s because the Holy Spirit IS God. That one is pretty straightforward and very powerful evidence.
In reference to the giving of spiritual gifts, in 1 Corinthians 12:11 it says, “But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills”. Here we see that the Spirit is not an impersonal force like the Jehovah’s Witnesses claim, because He has a will. Acts 16:6-7, “They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, after being forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them”. Here the Holy Spirit is referred to as the Spirit of Jesus.
Now couple that with 1 Corinthians 2:11 which says, “For who among people knows the thoughts of a person except the spirit of the person that is in him? So also the thoughts of God no one knows, except the Spirit of God”. Obviously, a person’s spirit is one with that person, so God’s Spirit is God. Now we see that the Holy Spirit has been called the Spirit of God, and the Spirit of Jesus. He is one with both other members of the Trinity. By the way, that’s just more support for the deity of Christ considering that God and Jesus’ spirit are the same.
But now what we need to do is show that the Spirit is a distinct person from Jesus and the Father. In John, Jesus talks about the Spirit like He’s a different person. John 15:26 says, “When the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, namely, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, He will testify about Me”. There is also Jesus’ baptism to consider. In this scene all three members of the Trinity are active. Matthew 3:16-17 says, “As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased”
We have Jesus coming out of the water, the Spirit descending upon Him, and the Father speaking from heaven. All 3 members of the Trinity are here. And as if you needed any more proof, don’t forget that in Matthew 28:19, Jesus told His disciples to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. If only the Father is God, why mention the Son and the Spirit? If only the Father and the Son are God, why mention the Spirit? And so, the Triune God is revealed. Three coeternal, coequal, distinct persons, in one being. What a brain-breaking, but glorious concept. Really, I wouldn’t expect the nature of the Almighty to be easy to comprehend anyway.
Many illustrations have been given in an attempt to explain how exactly the Trinity works, and for one reason or another, they all fall short. Here’s why. Now imagine you are a 2-dimensional being, your world is flat, and along comes a voice from the third dimension explaining to you what a cube is. Obviously, you wouldn’t get it. What? A square with six sides? A square made of six squares? What even is a side anyway? The way the third dimension works is so obvious to us that we don’t even think about it. We live in it. But if a living being experienced only 2 dimensions, the obvious would instead be a mental exercise for the ages. I think trying to understand the Trinity is kind of like that. We simply don’t have the frame of reference to get it.
The previously mentioned Michael Jones, or InspiringPhilosophy as he’s known on YouTube has a very interesting video called “The Trinity Explained” which contains much of what I just said but takes things even further into the 4th dimension. It is actually mathematically possible for 4-dimensional objects to exist, and the 4D equivalent to the 3D cube is called a hypercube or tesseract.
Aaaaand unfortunately, I don’t even know how to begin explaining such a thing, but the point is, just because the Trinity doesn’t make sense in our minds, doesn’t mean it’s impossible. We have examples of things that we know can exist, such as 4D objects, and yet there’s no way we can possibly grasp them fully without experiencing that higher dimension. In fact, we don’t know just how many dimensions there are, and if God is at the top of all these dimensions as their creator, is it really so hard to think He could be a multi-personal being? I don’t think so.
There’s one more thing I’d like to talk about regarding the Trinity, and it’s what it reveals about God. That is, His love. You see, God has existed through all eternity as 3 persons who love each other perfectly. The Father loves the Son and the Spirit. The Son loves the Father and the Spirit. And the Spirit loves the Father and the Son. When Scripture says that God is love, it’s absolutely right. God has always been giving and receiving love. If God is a maximally great being, and He has the trait of being maximally loving, then it makes sense that God would exemplify the greatest conceivable love, and I think that the relationship within the Trinity is by far the greatest idea of love.
God has always existed internally as a sort of family, a community. In fact, I think our human need for family and community flows from this aspect of God’s nature. Biblical love is more than feelings, it’s actions, and God has always had someone to love on. God wasn’t lonely in eternity. He didn’t make us to fill some need in His life, because He has no needs. He made us for relationship with Him. To bring us into that closeness that He’s always experienced. As members of Christ’s body, we get to share in that love relationship that God has within Himself for our benefit. How beautiful then is His heart!
He didn’t have to make us, but all for love, He did. Now we get to know Him and be known by Him. One might wonder if the only time God ever felt lonely was when Jesus was on the cross. The divine fellowship temporarily halted as God turned His face away from His Son for our sake. All for love.
I hope you learned a lot today. Thanks.