Is The Trinity Biblical?

After my last two blogs on the Trinity, I received a couple of very thoughtful comments.  They challenged the assumption I made that the Trinity is found in the Bible.  They argued instead that this doctrine is an invention of the Church, several hundred years later.

Because people have very different approaches to the Bible, I’m going to address these comments two ways.  First, for those who accept the Bible as the inspired Word of God, in this week’s blog I’ll show where you can find the Trinity in the Scriptures.  Then, for those who don’t accept that the Bible is inspired, in next week’s blog I’ll lay out how the best recent scholarship is demonstrating that, as early we can trace, even before the New Testament was completed, the early church was thinking of the Divine Identity as including Three persons, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

So, presuming the Bible is inspired, where is the Trinity found?  In seminal form, it can be seen in several “triadic” formulas Paul uses in his letters, the best known being the greeting: “May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (Second Corinthians 13:13)  In a more developed way, the Trinity can be seen during Jesus’ discourse in John’s Gospel at the Last Supper as He talks about how He and the Father will send the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete, to enlighten the disciples about all the Father and Son want to teach them after the Son returns to the Father.  With an indivisible unity, each of the Three Persons shares fully in the divine knowledge. (John 16:5-15)  Just as clearly, at Jesus’ baptism in Mark, Matthew, and Luke all Three Persons are present, with the Spirit descending upon Jesus while the Father’s voice is heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son.  Listen to Him.” 

Admittedly, none of these examples refers explicitly to God as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  But Matthew 28:19 does.  In the climactic scene of the Gospel, Jesus commissions His disciples, saying: “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.”  In this verse, spoken by the Risen Lord Himself, the very Name of the One true God—which had been revealed as YHWH (Yahweh) in the Old Testament—is now fully revealed to be Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Together, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit constitute the divine Name and, since in that culture your name indicated your identity, the divine Identity.

As one of the most widely respected Biblical scholars of our day, Notre Dame professor John Meier, says about this verse: “…one could hardly imagine a more forceful proclamation of Christ’s divinity—and, incidentally, the Spirit’s distinct personality—than this listing together, on a level of equality, of Father, Son, and Spirit.” (John P. Meier, Matthew, Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1990, p. 371)  In other words, this verse couldn’t make it any clearer that God is Three Divine Persons, a Trinity.

According to the Bible, the Father, Son, and Spirit are all equally God.

According to the Bible, the Trinity is the true name and identity of God!

One of the comments I received, however, made a compelling point: “Son” clearly implies “born”.  If Jesus is named as the Son of God, therefore, there had to be a point in time where God the Father brought Him into being.  That means He can’t be eternal.  He can’t be God.  And thus, God can’t be a Trinity of three Divine Persons.  When it calls Jesus “the Son”, the Bible implies that He isn’t fully God—the Trinity isn’t in the Bible after all.

I’d be inclined to agree—if the Bible was meant to be taken this literalistically.  It’s not.  “Son” language—as with “Father” and “Holy Spirit”—is meant to be taken analogously.  Finite human beings can never fully comprehend the transcendent mystery of God’s infinite being.  So, God reveals Himself in ways we can comprehend, images and concepts we can relate to.  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the best finite, human image the eternal God can give us to capture what He’s like.  It accurately mirrors the reality—God really is Three Persons—but it can’t fully convey the eternal majesty each “Person” possesses.

We aren’t meant to think of God as a literal father, but rather, as the Transcendent Lord whose nature is closest to that of a loving Father.  Likewise, the Son isn’t a literal son, born in time, but the eternal Second Person of the Trinity whose relationship with the other members of the Trinity is best understood as that of a dearly beloved son.  The Biblical language is meant to reveal, in terms we can understand, the dynamic and intimate bond of love that exists at the core of the Trinity—of God—which, in our experience, is most like the love of an ideal family. 

If you don’t buy this argument, however, the Bible itself makes it perfectly clear that Jesus, the Son, is eternal; that, being fully God, He was never born, but exists eternally alongside the Father and Spirit.  For example, in John 8:58, Jesus says: “Before Abraham was, I AM.”  Claiming to exist before Abraham, who lived nearly two thousand years prior, and using (the meaning) of the divine name Yahweh had revealed to Moses in the Old Testament for Himself, this verse leaves no doubt about Jesus’ eternal, divine nature.  That’s why the next verse says that the religious leaders began to pick up stones—they realize Jesus had blatantly committed blasphemy, claiming to be God. 

In Hebrews 13:8, Jesus is said to be “the same yesterday, today, and forever.”  In the context in which the New Testament was written, this was a common way of referring to the divine eternity, to true deity.  The point of the verse is that Jesus never changes; He is the same throughout all of eternity.

In the book of Revelation 1:8 and 21:6, God the Father is called the Alpha and the Omega, the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet and another common way of referring to God’s eternality.  But in Chapter 22:13, Jesus says that He too is Alpha and Omega, i.e., eternal.

If you accept that the Bible is inspired, the evidence for the Trinity is undeniable.  Back to the most explicit example, the words of Jesus in Matthew 28:19.  Following His instruction, these are the words that have been used for baptism down through the centuries.  As the candidate is being plunged into the water as a symbol of their new life in Christ, these are the words that are spoken. 

The symbolism is poignant: one is “plunged” into the family love of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  They are incorporated into that perfect communion of divine love which is the Trinity—an invitation that is available for anyone who desires it.

Are there any questions or topics you’d like me to address in future blogs?  If so, you can go to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and let me know.  I’d love to hear from you!  Please “Like” our Facebook page, subscribe to our YouTube channel, and keep telling your friends about us.  Thank you for all your support and keep the comments coming!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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