There is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three coeternal Persons. God is immortal, all-powerful, all-knowing, above all, and ever present. He is infinite and beyond human comprehension, yet known through His self-revelation. God, who is love, is forever worthy of worship, adoration, and service by the whole creation. (Gen. 1:26; Deut. 6:4; Isa. 6:8; Matt. 28:19; John 3:16 2 Cor. 1:21, 22; 13:14; Eph. 4:4-6; 1 Peter 1:2.)
The triune nature of God is the most sublime, but often difficult to understand, teaching in the Bible. The Shema Yisrael, found in Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord is our God, the Lord is one,”1 is the centrepiece of Jewish morning and evening prayer services and Jesus quoted this passage when a scribe asked Him which was the first commandment (Mark 12:29). The Ten Commandments strongly emphasise the unity of God, stating, “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). The unity of God is clearly an important characteristic of God.
But God’s triune nature shows me that He transcends a grand celestial majesty, far away from the realities of my struggling existence. God gives Himself to me, a mere human, in ways that touch and change my life. God not only rules the universe but, as Jesus Christ, God died to reclaim me from sin, and, as the Holy Spirit, God continually empowers me to become a new person.
The first chapter of the Bible introduces plurality within God’s unity. Not only did the Spirit of God hover over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2), but God said “Let us make man in our image” (verse 26). Some suggest this “us” and “our” was a conversation between God and the angels, but the declaration resulted in the creation of humans, a unity (Genesis 2:24) expressed in duality.
The Spirit of God appears several times in the Hebrew Testament. For example, Bezalel was filled and empowered with the Spirit of God to direct construction of the tabernacle and its furniture (Exodus 31:1-3); the Spirit of the Lord rushed on Saul, who prophesied (1 Samuel 10:6); and Ezekiel was taken by the Spirit of God to a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1).
The Hebrew Bible thus introduces the concept of plurality within the unity of our God. Old Testament glimpses of God’s plurality blossom into the full picture of the triune Godhead in the New Testament.2
The first full expression of the triune God is at the baptism of Jesus that marked His public entry into ministry. All four gospels include this account: “And when Jesus was baptised, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him, and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” (Matthew 3:16,17, also Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21,22, John 1:29-34). John, prior to his baptism account, powerfully presents the eternal and creative nature of the Word, God who became human flesh (John 1:1-14). Jesus Himself claimed oneness with God, His Father, and died refusing to renounce this claim. “This is why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because . . . he was even calling God his own father, making himself equal with God” (John 5:18). “The Jews answered him [Pilate], ‘We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God’” (John 19:7).
The apostle Paul frequently expresses the triune relationship of the Godhead in his prayers of blessing, for example, “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). Peter gives a trinitarian greeting to believers in “Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia and Bithynia according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for the obedience of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:1,2).
Our materialistic world cheerfully accepts the paradox of the bargain offer of three things for the price of one. A cynic might question the quality of the product or the motives of the vendor, but three for one is very appealing. But when we enter the spiritual realm we become mathematical and sceptical. In nature, however, it is common to find plural parts in one: the three lobes of a clover leaf, the five lobes of a maple leaf or the five petals of a viola (among hundreds of such examples). These all have “parts” that are physically attached to one another. But the omnipresence of God means that the three Persons of the Godhead are “joined” by love (“God is love”, 1 John 4:8) yet have separate functions to bring me, a sinner, into a relationship with God.
Despite the testimony of all gospel writers, and Paul and Peter, early in Christian history the rationality of the doctrine of a triune Godhead was questioned, notably by Arius (AD 256-336). The Age of Reason, which began in the 18th century, emphasised the scientific method and the supremacy of human reason as the means of discovering reality. Isaac Newton (1642-1727), devout Christian and renowned scientist, applied “rational” thinking to the concept of the Godhead and concluded that only God the Father was God. Some early Adventists also struggled with the concept of the Trinity, but notably it was Ellen White who urged belief in the three Persons of the Godhead.3 [pullquote]
Today Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists and the Worldwide Church of God deny the full deity and personhood of either God the Son or God the Holy Spirit. Perhaps, therefore, the struggles of good and sincere people to understand by human reason alone the triunity of God indicates that without divine revelation humans would never discover the selfless, triune nature of our Almighty, quintessence-of-love God.
Yet, in His farewell speech to His disciples, Jesus made special mention of the triune, giving nature of God.
“If you love me,” He said, “You will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of Truth . . . Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me. These things I have spoken while I am still with you. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (John 14:15-17, 24-26).
Jesus indicates the Trinity is a gift for my salvation; revelation of this comes with my love response to Him.
Recently, at a quilt show, I bought a few small pieces of fabric but was disconcerted to see the vendor place a piece I had not chosen into the bag. I quickly took the bag and peered inside. There were my chosen pieces plus an extra one. “A gift!” the smiling merchant said as I looked up. A bargain gift but it was all mine to enjoy. God calls us to enjoy all of His graciously revealed gifts of Himself, enabling us to take up the challenge of the Great Commission, to make disciples of all nations and baptise them in the wonderful name of our God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).
Dr Elizabeth Ostring is a retired musculoskeletal and family physician with a doctorate in Theology.