Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
The Trinity: One God in Three Persons
“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” Matthew 28:19NKJV
Question 9 of the Larger Catechism asks, “How many persons are there in the Godhead?” It gives the answer, “There be three persons in the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost; and these three are one true, eternal God, the same in substance, equal in power and glory; although distinguished by their personal properties.” As we saw in Question 8, it is supremely important that we believe that there is one and only one God and no others. Yet it is just as essential for us to hold that this one God is three persons.
Sometimes critics will slander the doctrine of the Trinity by inaccurately describing it as an impossible contradiction, claiming that Christians believe in one God and in three Gods. That we teach that God is one being and three beings or one person and three persons. This is a gross distortion of our doctrine. We do not hold to, for the Bible does not teach, absurd contradictions. We do not believe that God is one and three in the same thing and in the same way. We believe that God is one in one thing and three in something else. God is one in essence or substance and three in person or subsistence. There is one God – and not three Gods; and there are three persons – and not one person. Thus, this doctrine is not a contradiction at all but it is eminently reasonable and rational.
It is true, that since we do not have any earthly examples of something being three in subsistence and at the same time one in substance, we cannot know the Triune nature of God exhaustively or comprehensively. We have no analogy for it nor anything to compare it to. Therefore, something of a mystery will always remain for us in this doctrine. But this lack of full knowledge does not take away from the real knowledge of God’s Triune nature that we do have. This is true for most complicated things. For example there are many things that scientists do not understand about the human mind but that does not mean they do not know anything about the mind.
Where do we find in the Bible the teaching that God is three persons? Just as the Bible teaches that there is one and only one God, it teaches that the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Spirit is God. John’s Gospel begins with the declaration that Jesus (the Word made flesh) is God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). Here we see very clearly that Jesus was both with God and He was God. Often, the Bible teaches, and Jesus claims, His equality with God (Matt. 11:27; John 5:23; 14:9; 1 John 5:20; etc.). Jesus is worshipped as God (Matt. 14:33; Luke 24:52; John 20:28; Rev. 5:12-14). Jesus is God’s only Son (John 3:16).
Likewise, the Bible teaches the personhood and deity of the Holy Spirit. In Acts 5:3 Peter asks Ananias, “Why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” And then in the very next verse he declares “You have not lied to men but to God” (Act. 5:4). We know that the sin of blasphemy can only be committed against God, and yet the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is the unforgiveable sin (Mark 3:29), for the Holy Spirit is God’s own Spirit (Matt. 3:16; 12:18, 28; Eph. 4:30; etc.).
Additionally, there are many verses in the New Testament where the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are shown to have equal power and glory. Thus the verse at the head of this article: God has one and only one name, yet it is the name of these three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. We see the same divine equality given to the three persons in the apostolic benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:14). Thus the Bible unambiguously teaches that there are three persons in one Godhead. What an amazing God we serve!