Many unbiblical positions can be traced back to a misunderstanding of the nature of God. God has revealed to us in His Word some aspects of His nature. If we are to have a correct understanding of God, then we must accept what God has said about Himself. This is why the Trinity is an essential Christian doctrine. Many people deny what the Bible says about God’s nature, and instead place their faith in a god they have produced from their own imagination – a god that is easier to understand. The problem is, an imaginary god cannot save you. Only the real God can. And the real God is Triune. But what does the Trinity actually mean, and does the Bible really teach this doctrine?
What Does the term “Trinity” Mean?
The “Trinity” is a term we use as a short-hand way of referring to several doctrines pertaining to the nature of God. Succinctly stated, these doctrines are as follows:
1. There is one and only one God. That is, there is exactly one all-powerful, all-knowing being we call “God” or “the Lord” or by the Hebrew name “Yahweh.”
2. There are three co-equal persons who are God: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
3. The three persons of God are each fully God and are eternally distinct from each other. In other words, the Father is not the Son or the Spirit, nor is the Son the Spirit, but each is fully God and this has always been that way and will always be that way.
Any position that denies one or more of these doctrines is, by definition, a non-trinitarian position. This is crucial because when people argue against the Trinity, most of the time they do not understand the Trinity. Their arguments are actually arguments against a misrepresentation of the Trinity: a straw-man fallacy. For example, some people seem to have the impression that the Trinity is teaching that there are three gods. But this is not so. In fact, I have heard people argue against the Trinity on the basis that the Bible teaches that there is only one God (monotheism) in passages such as Deuteronomy 6:4. But of course, the Trinity affirms monotheism; it is the first doctrine of the Trinity!
The word “trinity” stems from the prefix “tri” meaning “three,” and “unity” meaning “one.” Hence, there is a one-ness aspect of God, and a three-ness aspect of God. The one-ness aspect of God is His being or His nature. There is one all-powerful being. (A moment’s reflection reveals that logically there can be only one all-powerful being.) However, this one being is comprised of three persons defined in terms of their relationship to each other. It should be clear that a person is not the same as a being. A rock has “being” because it exists. But it is not a person.
So the sense in which God is one is different from the sense in which God is three. Perhaps a simplistic way to put it is this: God is one “what” and three “who’s.” This is a crucial distinction because people who don’t understand the Trinity often assert that the concept is contradictory. They say “God can’t be both one and three because that is a contradiction.” But a contradiction is to assert both A and not-A at the same time and in the same sense. If I said “God is (only) one being and God is three beings,” then that would be a contradiction. And if I said, “God is (only) one person and also three persons in the same sense,” then that too would be a contradiction. But neither of these assertions is the Trinity. There is no contradiction in asserting that God is one in one sense (being/nature), and three in a different sense (persons). It may be counter-intuitive or contrary to our preferences or expectations. But it violates no principle of logic.
Indeed, many things in nature are one in one sense, and more than one in a different sense. The physical universe is one universe, but it is three in terms of components: space, time, and matter. Furthermore, there is only one space, but space is three in terms of dimensions (height, width, and depth). Time is one dimension but with three aspects: past, present, and future. There is nothing contradictory or absurd in recognizing that something can be one in one sense, and three in a different sense. Note that I am not saying that the above examples are exactly like the Trinity. But they do demonstrate the irrationality of asserting that something cannot possibly be one in one sense and more than one in an entirely different sense. The Lord has provided us with a universe of counterexamples.
The church itself is an example of one “what,” but more than one “who.” The universal church consists of all those who have been saved by Jesus. The one church is comprised of many persons. This example isn’t exactly like the divine Trinity because each person in the church is not “the church,” whereas each person of the Trinity is fully God. But it does illustrate a familiar example of one “what” with more than one “who.”
Some might ask, “But can you show me an analogy that is just like the divine Trinity?” No. There are many three-in-ones, but none are exactly like God. And there is a good reason for this. God is unique (Isaiah 46:9). He alone is one divine being consisting of three eternally distinct persons who are fully God. There is nothing besides God that is just like God. Deal with it. You can either humbly accept what God has said about Himself, or you can make up your own idol that is easier to understand. (But your idol cannot save you from your sins.)
So what then do we mean by the “persons” of the Trinity? We might initially think of a “person” in terms of a physical body, but God is a an omni-present spirit. He doesn’t have a physical body. So this isn’t what we mean. Rather, we use the term “person” to speak of the personal relationships within the one being who is God. There is love and communication between the three persons who are God (John 5:20, Genesis 1:26). Each person has a particular role in the redemption of God’s people (John 6:44, 3:5). Each is a distinct witness to the events of history (John 5:31-37).
You might say, “But I don’t fully understand the nature of God.” But would you expect a finite being to be able to fully understand the infinite mind and uncreated nature of the eternal God? God doesn’t expect or require us to fully comprehend his nature (Deuteronomy 29:29). But He does require us to have faith that He is who and what He claims to be. And He Himself gives us such faith as He wills (Hebrews 12:2).
Some critics assert, “But the term ‘Trinity’ is not found in the Bible.” That’s true. But it is utterly irrelevant to the truth of the doctrine. After all, there are many modern terms not found in the Bible that nonetheless describe biblical principles. For example, God is omniscient, meaning he knows everything. The word “omniscient” isn’t found in most English Bibles. But the principle that God knows everything is definitely taught (Psalm 147:5). Even the term “Christianity” is not found in the Bible, but does that make “Christianity” unbiblical? Of course not! The term “monotheism” is not found in the Bible. But the Bible does endorse the principle that there is only one God – that’s monotheism.
So with the straw-man misrepresentations out of the way, we are now in a position to ask, “Does the Bible really teach this doctrine that we today call the ‘Trinity?’” Since the Trinity is simply a succinct way to refer to the three principles we outlined above, the Trinity is proved if the Bible does teach each of those principles. So let’s examine them one by one.
Is There Exactly One Being Who Is God?
The first doctrine of the Trinity is that there is only one God. The Bible certainly endorses the fact that there is only one true God, and it does so in many ways. Deuteronomy 6:4 states, “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD.” When you see the word “LORD” in all caps in an English Bible, this indicates that it was translated from the Hebrew word “Yahweh” (יְהוָ֥ה) which is the holy name of God and is never used of anyone else. Hence, this passage informs us that almighty God is one God. He is one being, one in nature or essence. Hence, the first of the three requirements of the Trinity is proved. The Bible affirms monotheism.
But even in this verse there are indications that this one God is more than one in a different sense. The Hebrew word here translated “one” is echad (אֶחָֽד) and often is used to indicate something that is one in one sense and more than one in another sense. The same term is used to describe the first day of Creation in Genesis 1:5, since this one day has two parts: day and night.
The Hebrew word translated “God” in this passage and throughout most of Scripture is Elohim (אֱלֹהִ֑ים). The interesting thing about Elohim is that it is plural. So, a literal translation of the word would be “Gods.” In fact, most references to “God” use this word in the plural form, not the singular. However, the verbs associated with the plural Elohim (when referring to the one God) are always singular indicating that the subject (God) is singular, despite being a plural word. This is seen in the first verse of the Bible “In the Beginning God created….” The verse uses the plural form “Elohim,” yet with a singular verb form for “created” (בָּרָ֣א). It would literally read, “Gods [He] created….”
Some have suggested that this plural form is simply the plural of majesty – a way of elevating God as if to say the “the God of gods.” That would certainly be appropriate. However, others have argued that the plural of majesty did not yet exist at the time the Old Testament Scriptures were written. Going forward we will see verses that cannot be rationally interpreted any other way than to indicate multiple persons within the one God. Hence, the way the term God is used in the Bible seems to indicate that God is one in one sense, and yet more than one in a different sense. The same is true of the Hebrew word Adonay (אֲדֹנָ֔י) which is plural and literally translated “my lords” but is used with singular verbs when applied to the Lord God. In light of the Trinity, God can either use a singular pronoun to refer to Himself (“me/my”) since He is one God, or He can use a plural pronoun to refer to Himself (“us/our”) since He is three persons.
In Genesis 1:26 the Lord says, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness….” Why does He not say, “Let me make man in my own image?” Furthermore, to whom is God speaking? It cannot be the angels since they are not said to be made in God’s image, nor mankind in theirs. And it cannot be to mankind who had not yet been created. This seems to be a clear reference to the Trinity; one of the persons of the Trinity is speaking to the others. The next verse states that God (plural) made (singular) man in His (singular) own image. So again, we see the one and yet more-than-one aspect of God in this verse. We would not suggest that these verses alone prove the full doctrine of the Trinity. But they do show that God’s nature is different from ours. At this point, we are only attempting to establish the first principle of the Trinity: that there is only one God.
Many other verses establish that there is only one God. In Isaiah 46:9 the Lord says, “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me.” In Isaiah 45:5-7 God says, “I am the LORD, and there is no other; Besides Me there is no God. I will gird you, though you have not known Me; That men may know from the rising to the setting of the sun That there is no one besides Me. I am the LORD, and there is no other, The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the LORD who does all these.”
Of course, the Lord acknowledges the existence of false gods. Man can make idols and bow and worship them. But such “gods” are not truly gods at all, for they cannot save (Isaiah 45:20). They are mere creations of man with no power to do anything (Isaiah 44:9,17). But there is only one Living God. Isaiah 44:6 states, “Thus says the LORD, the King of Israel and his Redeemer, the LORD of hosts: ‘I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.” Clearly the Bible affirms the first principle of the Trinity: there is only one God.
But what is the nature of this one God? Is He only one person, or is He three persons? Are the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit God? We will explore these questions in the next article.
 For example, while space, time, and matter are three components of one universe, each of these components cannot be said to be “the universe.” This is different from God, where each of the three persons is God.
 This is of course aside from the incarnation, where God the Son took on a body for Himself. But before the incarnation, even the Son had no physical body.
 In particular, Gleason Archer argues that passages like Genesis 1:26 cannot be plural of majesty. He claims that a first-person usage of plural of majesty cannot be demonstrated anywhere in Scripture. Archer, G., Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties.
 Furthermore, this God would have to be (at least) three in one, not merely two in one. The reason is because the plural in Hebrew indicates three or more (not two or more as in English). The Hebrew language has a separate form called the “dual” to indicate two of something. Hence, if God were a “binity” rather than a trinity, the term for God would be “Elohayim.”
 When applied to the Living God, the term Adonay is usually translated as “Lord” in English Bibles – with a capital “L” and all other letters lowercase. When reading the text aloud, it was common for the Hebrews to substitute the word Adonay for Yayweh to avoid speaking aloud the Holy name of God.