The Trinity: God is Three in One
by Mark E. Larson
Many critics of Christianity point to what they believe to be a fundamental flaw - the belief that God is three persons, yet one God (i.e., the doctrine of the Trinity). To the Jews and Muslims, this Christian doctrine appears to be a contradiction and a blasphemy against the one, true God. Christians have even been accused of believing in polytheism or three separate gods!
If the doctrine of the Trinity is true, then we could expect to find this teaching in the Scriptures. If the doctrine of the Trinity is false, then the Scriptures would only speak of God in such a way as to indicate that God is only one person. What do we find when we examine the Scriptures?
Is God Absolutely Alone or Only One Person?
There are nine different Hebrew words in the Scriptures that can be translated as “one” (See the Englishman’s Concordance). Sometimes words such as man or woman are translated “one,” but such words are never applied to God in the Bible. This is understandable since God is not a man or a woman (Numbers 23:19).
Now if God is only one person, as Jews and Muslims claim, which word for oneness could they apply to God? Only one of the nine Hebrews words that can be translated as “one” can refer to “complete solitary” or being absolutely alone. That word is yachiyd (e.g., Psalms 68:6; Genesis 22:2; Judges 11:34). If this word was applied to God anywhere in the Scriptures, it would be devastating to the doctrine of the Trinity. However, no where in Scripture can this word be found ever applying to God! That is because God is not absolutely alone as only one person.
God Has a Unified Oneness About Him
We learn much about God by studying the Hebrew word echad. Sometimes the word is used with reference to the number one or quantity of one (e.g., Genesis 2:21), but when it does it is never in reference to God. Frequently, the word echad is translated “one” to denote a unified or compound oneness: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Many other examples could be given (e.g., Genesis 3:22; 11:6; 34:16; II Chronicles 30:12; Ezra 2:64; Jeremiah 32:39). Jews and Muslims would not want to find this Hebrew word applying to God, lest they lose their argument that God is only one person.
The word echad does in fact apply to God! “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one [echad] LORD” (Deuteronomy 6:4; Compare to Mark 12:29). God is “one” in the sense of a unified or compound oneness. All three persons united -- God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, constitute or comprise the one true God.
God Is Referred to in the Singular As Well As in the Plural
Those who deny the doctrine of the Trinity will never refer to God in the plural or quote God speaking in the plural (e.g., “They,” “Them,” “Theirs,” “We,” “Us,” “Ours”), but only in the singular (e.g., “I,” “Myself,” “Me,” “”My,” He,” “Him,” “His”). We may use singular nouns and verbs to refer to God because God is described in this way in Scripture. This is often done to emphasize that the Lord is the one and only God (e.g. Deuteronomy 32:39).
However, we may also use plural nouns and verbs to refer to God because God is also described in this way in Scripture! The Bible commonly uses plural words for God, the most common one being the Hebrew word elohiym (i.e., a plural form of deity or god): “In the beginning God [elohiym] created the Heaven and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). It may surprise some to know that elohiym is translated more than 400 times in the Bible as “gods” – plural! For example, “And the people answered and said, "Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods" (Joshua 24:16, NASB; See also Genesis 31:30; Exodus 12:12). God spoke in the first person plural when creating us! “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…” (Genesis 1:26a). Some have suggested that the “us” or “our” in this verse refers to angels, yet man was not created in both the image of God and the angels! Other examples of plural pronouns for God can be found in Scripture (e.g., Genesis 3:22; 11:7-8; Isaiah 6:8). Further evidence that God comprises of more than one person can be seen in the Scriptures where two divine persons are both called God in the very same passage (e.g. Psalms 45:6-7; Hebrews 1:8-9; Isaiah 48:12-17; Hosea 1:6-7; Genesis 19:24).
God in Three Persons
God Being Three Persons, Yet One God Is Due to His Unified Nature
God is One, yet composed of three persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All three persons are referred to as God in the Scriptures because each one is God by nature or the divine essence (John 6:27; Colossians 2:8-9; Acts 5:3-4). God would not be God to exclude any one of the three persons that make up the divine nature. For example, Jesus, even while on earth, was God in the flesh or the “I AM” (John 8:24, 58). Yet, Jesus always was accompanied by both the Father and the Holy Spirit (e.g., John 10:37-38; Luke 4:1).
Equality Among All Three Persons
Jesus, the Son of God and the Holy Spirit are just as much God as the Father is! “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Jesus “thought it not robbery to be equal with God” (Philippians 2:6). The equality of the Father and Son is seen in the salutations of most New Testament epistles (e.g., Romans 1:7; Galatians 1:3; II John 3).Each person of the triune God is emphasized equally in prayer in II Corinthians 13:14.
Equal, Yet of Different Rank by the Divine Order
Jesus submitted to the Father’s will and obeyed His commands (John 4:34; 5:30; 6:38; 8:29; 14:31). How then could they be equal? Both are equally God, yet according to the divine order, each has a different rank or position in the hierarchy of God (See I Corinthians 11:3). Just as man and woman are equal (Galatians 3:28), so are the Father and the Son (John 10:30). The different rank a woman has does not make her any less of a Christian (or human for that matter). Neither does the different rank of Christ make Him any less Deity. The different rank that each person holds simply means that there are different roles and responsibilities that each one fulfills (e.g., Ephesians 5:22-33; Philippians 2:8). All three persons (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) represent Deity, though each person of the Godhead is distinguishable from the other. Each person of God is distinct in the sense that each one has a different role that each one fulfills (e.g., Hebrews 12:9; Ephesians 5:23; John 16:13).
The Unified Work of the Trinity
All three persons of God are one also in the sense of functioning together as a team to accomplish the work of God. The work of Creation: “[God] in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world” (Hebrews 1:2; cf. Genesis 1:2, 26-27). "The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4). The work of salvation: “’Come near to Me [Christ], listen to this: From the first I have not spoken in secret, from the time it took place, I was there. And now the Lord GOD has sent Me, and His Spirit.’ Thus says the LORD, your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel; ‘I am the LORD your God, who teaches you to profit, who leads you in the way you should go’” (Isaiah 48:16-17; cf. Ephesians 1:2-14).
The Trinity Provides Our Salvation
Fellowship with God is achieved through the Trinity (Ephesians 2:17-19). Salvation has been made possible by the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. To become a child of God and receive the spiritual and eternal blessings that the Trinity provides, each person must be baptized in the name (i.e., authority) of the Triune God (Matthew 28:18-20; cf. Acts 2:38; I Peter 3:21). Once we are baptized in Their name, we must continue to abide in God’s word for the Triune God to continue to abide in us (I John 4:12-16; II John 9; Galatians 3:2; Romans 10:17; Galatians 5:16).