The foundational doctrine of the Bible is that there is one true and living God. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). This prayer, called the Shema (from the Hebrew word for “hear”), was the central confession of Israel.
But just as surely as the Bible teaches there is one God, it also teaches that there is a three-ness to God – that God is the Father, Son, and Spirit. Astonishingly, one of the primary proof texts for this claim is Israel’s ancient creed in Deuteronomy 6:4. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, the apostle Paul says:
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
According to Paul, the “LORD our God” refers to the Father (“one God”) and also to Jesus Christ” (“one LORD”). This elaboration of the Shema is profound. It says that the one LORD who is God that Israel has always worshiped is the Father and the Son.
And just a few verses earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul asks, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Temples were dwelling places of god in the ancient world. By describing the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, Paul is clearly identifying the Holy Spirit as God. Putting the two passages together, Paul is saying that the Lord God is the Father, Son, and Spirit.
What is so striking about this is that the context of these passages is pagan worship – temple prostitution in chapter six, and idolatry in chapter eight. Yet within a context in which Paul is determined to reject the idolatrous practices of ancient polytheism and assert the primacy of the one true God, he at the same time identifies that God as Father, Son, and Spirit. For the apostle Paul, jealousy for the oneness of God and adoration of the Father, Son, and Spirit as God were not mutually exclusive, but necessarily inclusive.
So what word can we use to describe this one God who exists as Father, Son, and Spirit? How can we encapsulate this threefold nature of the Lord God? If only we have a word that meant something like “three-ness”! Well, we do – it is the word Trinity (from the Latin trinitas, “state of being threefold”).
I have sometimes heard well-meaning Christians express skepticism about using the term Trinity. After all, the word is not found in the Bible, and we should “speak as the Bible speaks.” I’ve even seen editions of the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy that remove the phrase “God in Three Persons, blessed Trinity.”
But these same earnest believers frequently use terms and phrases that are not explicitly found in Scripture (like “speak as the Bible speaks”) because they believe such terminology expresses biblical teaching. So the real issue is, does the biblical teaching about God reveal a three-ness about Him? And the answer to that question is clearly affirmative. And since that is the case, Trinity is as good a word as any to convey a richly biblical idea.
When I was younger, I used to think of the doctrine of the Trinity as a riddle to be solved. “Okay Shane, here’s a doctrine – there is one God in three persons. Now, go find a prooftext to demonstrate it!” But that is not at all how the subject should be approached. Instead, the doctrine of the Trinity is itself the solution to a biblical riddle. How can God work “through” God, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 8:6? How can God be sent “from God”, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:19? The only way to make sense of these passages (and many others) is that within the life of the one God there is a three-ness, Father, Son, and Spirit.
Over the next few weeks I want to explore this teaching with you. Here are some of the questions I want to examine:
- Is the doctrine of the Trinity illogical?
- How can there be a three-ness to God without compromising His one-ness?
- Are there any good analogies of the Trinity?
- What is the relationship of the Son and the Spirit to the Father?
- Was the Trinity “broken” when Jesus died on the cross?
I hope you will drop back by over the next few Tuesdays as we look at these issues!