The Trinity Explained in Three Statements

The realization that Jesus is God brought complications for the simple monotheism of the early disciples. You can imagine them trying to think these things through for themselves.

“Ok, so the Father is God. And Jesus is God. And Jesus has sent the Holy Spirit who is God. And there is only one God. Huh??”

In trying to understand the trinity, people have produced all sorts of analogies. They have talked about eggs, time, water, the three leaf clover etc. While the intention is good, the analogies are most often unhelpful as they end up teaching heretical ideas of the trinity. When trying to understand the Trinity, it is best to hold the following three statements together:

  1. There is one God. 
  2. The one God simultaneously exists as three distinct persons (The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit). 
  3. The three persons are fully God. 

1. There is one God.

This is one of the clearest teachings of the Bible.

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. (Deuteronomy 6:4)
But the LORD is the true God; he is the living God and the everlasting King. At his wrath the earth quakes, and the nations cannot endure his indignation. (Jeremiah 10:10)
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form light and create darkness, I make well-being and create calamity, I am the LORD, who does all these things. (Isaiah 45:5-7)

In saying there is one God, Christian theology means there is one divine nature or being. In simple terms, a nature is 'what' something is. You might like to say there is one 'what'.

If we deny this truth, then the three persons of the trinity become three different gods (i.e. three whats). This is the heresy of tritheism.

2. The one God of the Bible simultaneously exists as three distinct persons (The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit).

By this we mean, the Father is not the Son or the Holy Spirit, and the Son is not the Holy Spirit. They are distinct persons.

In simple terms, a person is 'who' something is. The personhood of each member of the Trinity means that each Person has a distinct centre of consciousness. Thus, they relate to each other personally--the Father regards Himself as "I," while He regards the Son and Holy Spirit as "You." Likewise the Son regards Himself as "I," but the Father and the Holy Spirit as "You."[1] The following verses indicate a distinction in persons: 

In the beginning was the Word (Son), and the Word (Son) was with God (Father), and the Word was God. (John 1:1)
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My (Son) name, He (Holy Spirit) will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I (Son) said to you. (John 14:26)

Some have falsely taught that the Holy Spirit is a force, not a person. But in the Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as He not it (John 14:26), He speaks (Hebrews 3:7), thinks and understands (1 Corinthians 2:10-11), wills (1 Corinthians 12:11) and feels (Ephesians 4:30) etc.

These three persons are coeternal and are simultaneous (i.e. they have always existed together). This last point is seen at Jesus’ baptism where the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus and the Father speaks from heaven (Matthew 3:16-17).

If we deny the truth of three simultaneous and distinct persons in the Godhead, we get the heresy known as modalism. This is the belief that God is one person who takes on different roles at different times. Sometimes He is the Father, and at other times He is the Son or the Spirit.

3. Each person is fully God.

God is not to be thought of as divided into three parts. The Father is fully God. The Son is fully God. The Holy Spirit is fully God. Each person possesses all of the one divine essence. Of the Son it is said, “In Him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily” (Colossians 2:9).

'This means that the three Persons taken together are not to be regarded as a greater divine being than any one of the Persons viewed singly and also that any one of the Persons viewed singly is not to be regarded as a lesser divine being than when the three are viewed together.'[2]

Denying the equality of the three persons in the Godhead results in the heresy of Subordinationism.

The three truths are seen together in Matthew 28:19.

‘Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’

In this verse the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are distinguished as three distinct persons. The three persons are equal since they are listed together. The three persons are united since they share the one name.

Is the Trinity a contradiction? No, because God is one in a different way than He is three. God is one being and three persons (one ‘what’ and three ‘whos’). This is a mystery but not a contradiction.

[1] Can you explain the doctrine of the Trinity and its biblical support? [article online] (accessed 31 August 2006) available from

[2] R.L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998)

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