Many people believe that the idea of the Trinity is one of the most difficult to understand in the Christian faith.
I very much disagree—and I’ll share the details of why in this lesson.
God does not intentionally confuse us as to who He is; He desires a relationship with us.
The challenge to understanding the Trinity is the same challenge of understanding everything else about our faith—we need to look at God’s Word, which I’ll help you do, and not simply accept the statements of “Oh, this is a mystery we can’t understand.”
Below is a copy of the chart talked about in the lesson, plus direct links to the podcast and video.
You can make as many copies as you want to share with my permission.
• What do you know about the Trinity? How would you explain it?
• When the Children of Israel came out of Egypt, they knew little about the God who rescued them.
• In Exodus 20, God bases all that will follow on His identity as God.
• But who is this God? How is He different than the multitude of gods worshiped in Egypt?
• Understanding our Three in One God, what we call the Trinity, was essential for the Children of Israel to understand as it is for us today.
• I’ll help you do that in this lesson and two additional related ones on the same topic…..
It’s not as difficult as you might think!
The challenge of understanding the Trinity
• Many people believe that the idea of the Trinity is one of the most difficult to understand in the Christian faith.
• I very much disagree—and I’ll share the details of why in this lesson.
• God does not intentionally confuse us as to who He is; He desires a relationship with us.
• The challenge to understanding the Trinity is the same challenge of understanding everything else about our faith—we need to look at God’s Word, which I’ll help you do, and not simply accept the statements of “Oh, this is a mystery we can’t understand.”
Understanding the Trinity is also important because….
• Not only is an understanding of the Trinity important to our personal faith, but the Trinity is one of the KEY differences between Christianity and the cults that are distorted interpretations of the Christian faith such as the Mormon religion and Jehovah Witness, in addition to non-Christian religions such Islam.
• All of these have a distorted view of the Trinity, most often centering on a false identity of Jesus.
• None of them doubt or deny Jesus existed, but they do not believe Jesus is God and a part of the eternal Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
• They say he is either a lesser god, an exalted human, or simply a revered prophet, very wise perhaps but totally human—all of which do not agree with what the Bible says about Him.
For a further explanation of how other religions incorrectly view Jesus, check out the following lessons
The problem understanding the Trinity isn’t only with other religions
• Most Christians don’t understand the Trinity, which is why it’s hard for them to spot problems with other religion’s views of it.
• If we can’t explain it to ourselves or people who ask us about it, these doubts can lead to other doubts about our faith.
• But the lesson today will clarify the correct doctrine of the Trinity and help you to know and understand more fully the God who created you, redeemed you, and loves you through all eternity.
How we will do this
• First, we’ll establish that the Bible consistently teaches that our God is a Trinity—three persons, one God.
• Then we will look at one of the most common misunderstandings of the Trinity today
• Then we’ll look at a correct view of it using terms defined by Tertullian, the theologian who coined the word “Trinity.”
• And no, the word “Trinity” is not in the Bible—nor is the word “Bible” in the Bible nor is the word “Christianity” in the Bible.
• There are many words we use to properly explain Biblical concepts that are not precisely in the Bible, but that are biblically correct.
• Just as reading many Bible passages helps us identify what defines a Christian, so too looking at many passages in the Bible about the Trinity will help us define it—so let’s get started!
Evidence for the Trinity in the New Testament—an early one—the Baptism of Jesus
What about evidence of the Trinity in the Old Testament?
• Many are familiar with Gen. 1:1“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” where the word “God” is in plural format (Elohim).
• Also, when “God (Elohim) said, “Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us.” Gen.1:26, NLT, where God is clearly speaking as a plurality of persons.
• People looking for the Trinity in the Old Testament get very excited about these two uses of the plural term for God.
• But what about The Shema, the statement that seems to clearly state there is only ONE God? Let’s look at it…..
Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deut. 6:4,5
• At first reading it’s hard to see any evidence of the Trinity in that and many use this verse to deny the existence of the Trinity.
• However, when you look at the Hebrew word for God in this verse it is the SAME PLURAL WORD “Elohim” used in Genesis for “God” and in fact the word Elohim, is used for God 2600 times in the Old Testament—in every book, in many settings!
• See the Blue Letter Bible for the many references https://www.blueletterbible.org/lexicon/h430/kjv/wlc/0-1/
In reality, the Old Testament from the first book
to the last chapter
• Consistently, in the use of the plural term for God, Elohim, affirms the existence of the Trinity.
• The use of that word alone doesn’t answer all the questions about the Trinity in the Old Testament, and I’ve done another lesson focusing solely on the Trinity in the Old Testament.
• In it I answer questions such as, “How do we reconcile passages that say, ‘God cannot be seen’ with other passages that clearly say a Biblical character saw and talked to God?”
• And “Did Jesus appear to people before he was born in Bethlehem?” and “Why was the Holy Spirit only given to some people in the Old Testament, not all believers?”
• The lesson is available at www.Bible805.com, and on the podcast and video channels.
Knowing the Trinity is affirmed
• Extensively, consistently in both the Old and New Testaments is one thing and that’s good,
• But how can we understand it?
• How can we explain 3 persons? One God?
• That’s what we’ll spend the rest of this lesson learning and again—it is NOT difficult to understand.
A well-meaning, but incorrect explanation of the Trinity—Modalism
• Popularly described explanations for the Trinity: ice, water, steam or one person as husband, father, son***ALL WRONG as they describe one entity in three various modes
• Theological definition: Modalism,. . . . is the unorthodox belief that God is one person who has revealed himself in three forms or modes in contrast to the Trinitarian doctrine where God is one being eternally existing in three persons. According to Modalism, during the incarnation, Jesus was simply God acting in one mode or role, and the Holy Spirit at Pentecost was God acting in a different mode. Thus, God does not exist as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit at the same time. Rather, He is one person and has merely manifested himself in these three modes at various times.
• . . . . .This is not what the Trinity is. The correct teaching of the Trinity is one God in three eternal coexistent persons: The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.“
• Modalism was refuted by [the church father] Tertullian (c. 213,) . . . .it was condemned as heresy by Dionysius, bishop of Rome (c. 262). . . .and by a number of the early church councils. https://www.theopedia.com/modalism
Satirical, but accurate description of historical and current false teachings about the Trinity
• That’s Modalism Patrick! From St. Patrick’s Bad analogies
• The problem with using analogies to explain the Holy Trinity is that you always end up confessing some ancient heresy.
• From the Lutheran Satire YouTube Channel. I agree with all the heretical descriptions, though their final explanation is a bit dense—this lesson will help you understand the correct meaning of the Trinity better.
• Link will be in the notes for this lesson
• Modalism is just one of the misunderstandings.
• I agree that analogies can often be a problem, so I won’t use them, but will use the historical explanation of the Trinity from one of the early church theologians, Tertullian.
How Tertullian clarified the true nature of the Trinity
• He was a lawyer prior to becoming a Christian and leader in the church.
• As a result of his study and in response to what he believed were false views of the Trinity in his day, he coined the term, Trinity, and defined it as
• una substantia, tres personae
• Meaning God is one substance, in three persons
• I created a chart to illustrate it—it’s easy to describe, but a copy will also be in the notes.
A Biblical view of the Trinity
Tertullian separated substance and personhood because…..
• You can have a trinity of anything that has similar characteristics or that works together in some way—a group of 3 chairs, a government with 3 parts, a trio, a group of 3 people singing together
• But what makes THE TRINITY unique is its substantia, its substance, the attributes of it, not just that it has 3 parts
• ONLY THE TRINITY of GOD has the substance of eternality, omnipotence, total truth,immutability, et. al. and that substance, those attributes are shared equally and eternally by each member of the Trinity.
Many scriptures point to this uniqueness of God…
• One example: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts. Isa. 55:8,9
• We have thoughts, we have ways, but God’s are so exponentially different than ours—it is the essence of who He is that makes Him God
• We looked at the “una substantia”, the One Substance, the characteristics all members of the Trinity share, now let’s dig deeper into “tres personas.”
What does it mean to be a person?
We’ll now look at defining characteristics of personhood we for each person of the Trinity
• Not mystical ideas—but tangible characteristics, We’ll talk about each of these for EACH MEMBER of the of the Trinity along with a verse that illustrates it.
• Relationships with other persons
• That we could do this was surprising to me when I first studied the Trinity—I thought of Jesus as a Person, but that God the Father and the Holy Spirit were also persons was not something I understood.
• Let’s now look at the biblical evidence of the personhood of each member of the Trinity—there is much more in the Bible, but here is a useful foundation….
God the Father
• Engages in personal relations
• The Father loves the Son and has placed everything in his hands. (John3:35)
Don’t be like them, for your Father knows exactly what you need even before you ask him! (Matt.6:8)
But you, O Lord, are a God of compassion and mercy,
slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. (Ps. 86:15)
For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother. (Matthew 12:50)
God the Son
• The Son engages in personal relations with God and people
• Jesus raised his eyes to heaven and prayed, “Father, I’m grateful that you have listened to me. I know you always do listen, but on account of this crowd standing here I’ve spoken so that they might believe that you sent me” (John 11:41–42)
• But Jesus didn’t trust them, because he knew all about people. No one needed to tell him about human nature, for he knew what was in each person’s heart. (John 2:24–25)
• He taught in their meeting places, reported kingdom news, and healed their diseased bodies, healed their bruised and hurt lives. When he looked out over the crowds, his heart broke.(Matt. 9:36 MSG)
• Jesus wept. (John 11:35)
• Having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them unto the end. (John 13:1)
• Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done. (Luke 22:42)
God the Holy Spirit is a person
• The Holy Spirit engages in personal relations
• The Holy Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and walk along beside the carriage.”(Acts 8:29,NLT)
• And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.(Rom.8:27, NLT)
• But they rebelled against him and grieved his Holy Spirit.
So, he became their enemy and fought against them. (Isa.63:10, NLT)
• And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.(Eph.4:30, NLT)
• It is the one and only Spirit who distributes all these gifts. He alone decides which gift each person should have.(1 Cor.12:11, NLT)
Relationships in the Trinity—Jesus interacting with the Father
• Know each other
• No one knows the Son the way the Father does, nor the Father the way the Son does. (Matt. 11:27, MSG)
• Love each other
• The Father loves his Son and has put everything into his hands. (John 3:35, NLT)
• Speak to each other
• Then [after successful sending out of the 70] he was filled with the joy of the Holy Spirit and said, “I praise you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the intellectuals and worldly wise and for revealing them to those who are as trusting as little children. Yes, thank you, Father, for that is the way you wanted it. (Luke 10:21, TLB)
The Holy Spirit was continuously involved in the life of Jesus
• From His Conception: The angel replied, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the baby born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35 NLT)
• His Temptation: Then Jesus, being filled with the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness (Luke 4:1 NKJV).
• His Ministries: Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region (Luke 4:14 NKJV).
• God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the Devil, for God was with him (Acts 10:38 NLT).
• His Resurrection: But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you (Romans 8:11 NKJV).
In their interactions, each person of the Trinity has a different role
• The theological term when discussing these roles is the “Economic Trinity.”
• The term “economic” in the term “Economic Trinity” comes from the Greek word oikonomia, which means, literally, “household management.” (from www.gotquestions.org).
• It is the term that describes the different roles that the members of the Trinity have, while all working towards the same goals.
Here’s how it works in our salvation
• God the Father initiates, sends “For God so loved the world that He gave his only Son (John 3:16).”
• God the Son, Jesus accomplishes the work of salvation, “He (Jesus) is the atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 2:2).
• God the Holy Spirit regenerates and renews us, “. . .according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:5).
• And they do it all together in perfect love, harmony, deferring to one another when appropriate, working to glorify each other—all examples for how we should work together.
In review, in summary
• The doctrine of the Trinity is not a mysterious, hidden teaching, but one clearly taught throughout the Bible.
• And understanding the Trinity is essential for our understanding of the character of our God and how He works.
• For a related lesson on the Trinity, which I initially had as part of this one, but made separate because of length, see the lesson, The Trinity in the Old Testament, with special emphasis on Jesus as the Angel of the Lord, also I have a short lesson/video explaining the chart explaining the Trinity in more detail.
One more thing…..
• If paranoid like me— after I learned about the Trinity….
• I had this big fear a worry that what if I don’t understand which member of the Trinity is doing what, or if I refer to God in the wrong way, will that be a big mistake?
• Will God the Father not get the honor He deserves?
• Will Jesus be upset with me?
• Will the Holy Spirit be sad?
No, I don’t think so—
• God often uses human analogies to refer to Himself and here is one I came up with that may be useful.
• For example, when people talk about coming to the “Prehns” for dinner, they don’t say, Yvon will cook, and Paul will tell jokes and talk, and they both make us feel welcome—they are simply going to be with us.
• My husband and I are a unit in our ministries and life and work, though we remain individual persons with different roles within it and we love our guests that join us and don’t expect them to define who did what when they sit down to dinner.
• I think this is a small picture of the much greater unity and unique personhood of the Trinity and of the much greater love the Trinity has for His creation.
• I think God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit delight when we make even the most feeble attempts to learn more about Him or talk about Him regardless of if we are exact in our distinctions of understanding of precisely which person of the Trinity is doing what at a precise time.
A final reminder about the Trinity
• I pray that this study of the Trinity hasn’t been a merely theological exercise, but an opportunity to get to know our God better.
• In closing, consider this trinitarian benediction from the Apostle Paul:
• May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Corinthians 13:14).
• Because, our God, the Trinity of three persons existing from all eternity have shared grace, love, and fellowship among themselves, they can now pour it out on us.
• That’s the essence of the Trinity.
• Now that isn’t so hard to understand, is it?
That’s all for now,
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