This is the first teaching in the Essentials series and it also initiates the first subsection called The Beginning. We must start with God Himself. Here we explore some of the key aspects of the Trinity—the one God’s existence as three persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). Please note that throughout this teaching the words triune, trinity in unity, triunity, and trinity are all used somewhat interchangeably. They all mean the same thing: three in one. I tend to prefer the use of triune or triunity (thus the title), because it communicates the concept of three in one more clearly, however, I still tend to use trinity for the sake of familiarity.
There are many references throughout the Bible that reveal God as three in one, but for this first teaching in The Beginning series, I will mainly focus on those that relate to creation. Let us begin by introducing these scriptures. I will reference various aspects of these passages throughout this teaching.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1–4; emphasis mine)
The true light [Jesus Christ], which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. (John 1:9–10; emphasis mine)
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has ever seen God; the only God [the Son Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:14, 18; emphasis mine)
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. (Genesis 1:1–2; emphasis mine)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. …” (Genesis 1:26a; emphasis mine)
It quickly becomes evident in these two records of creation, from both the Old and New Testaments, that God is a triune God. In these verses we have God the Father creating all things through His Word, a person Who is God, and the Spirit of God carrying out the creative actions. In his book, Practical Christian Theology, Floyd Barackman summarized this succinctly when he wrote, “… all divine activities toward and dealings with the universe are done by the Father through the Son by means of the Holy Spirit.”
God exists as three distinct persons—God the Father, God the Son (the Word), and God the Spirit—yet, He is One God as Moses declared: “Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). God is a trinity in unity, which is commonly referred to simply as the Trinity.
Jesus Christ — Where God Meets Man
Jesus told us “God is spirit” (John 4:24). Existing as spirit, how then does He reveal Himself to natural man? It is through the person of Jesus Christ that God makes Himself known to man.
There were many pre-incarnate appearances of Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. These are called theophanies. In many of these He is referred to as “the angel of the Lord.” Judges 6 is a good example of a chapter where He is referred to as “the angel of the Lord” and Genesis 18 is a good example of a chapter where He is simply referred to as “the LORD.”
Regarding Jesus, the apostle Paul wrote:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. … For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell …” (Colossians 1:15,19; emphasis mine).
And again, the account from one of His closest disciples:
And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. … No one has ever seen God; the only God [the Son Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. (John 1:1–4; 9–14; 18; emphasis mine)
Jesus Christ is how the invisible God becomes visible to man. “All the fullness of God” dwells in Him and He reveals to us the holy character of God. Only through Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, can man know God the Father, as Jesus explained:
“All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” (Luke 10:22; emphasis mine)
Any other way to God is a lie. John described the denial of Jesus Christ as God and His coming in the flesh (“the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”) as the spirit of the antichrist:
Who is the liar but he who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also. (1John 2:22–23)
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. (1 John 4:1–3)
Every cult and false religion denies the deity of Jesus Christ and/or the fact that God came in the flesh. The Trinity is an essential Christian doctrine. The dynamic of it allowed for God to come as a man and die on the cross for our sins. Every false way to God denies this fact and is a deception to keep people from being saved from their sins through simple faith in God’s provision, Jesus Christ.
God Dwells Among Us
In the quote previously referenced, the apostle Paul stated that Jesus is “the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of creation.” Concerning the elect, Paul wrote to the church at Rome:
For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified. (Romans 8:29–30; emphasis mine)
Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” and God has predestined believers to be like Him, “the firstborn among many brothers.” Jesus is the head of the family of God. In other words, it is through the second person of the trinity that God has united His people with Him as one family.
Jesus once told the disciple Judas (not Iscariot):
“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” (John 14:24; emphasis mine)
Jesus response to Judas the son of James revealed the Trinity and its purpose in just one, simple statement. The Son of God (Jesus, the second person of the Trinity), is how God the Father (first person of the Trinity)—who is love—reaches out to His created man. If we love Him and desire Him we will keep His word and have fellowship with Him through His Spirit (third person of trinity) dwelling in us. The operation of His Trinity is how God reveals Himself and unites His family in His love. The cohesion of this is evident in the following prayer of Paul:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:14–21; emphasis mine)
This prayer follows the same pattern that Jesus described to Judas the son of James, and again, reveals how the Trinity works together as one to accomplish the purposes of God. The essential focus of God’s triunity is to enable man to know and walk with Him. The loving God desires to live with His children.
We are treated to but a fleeting hint of what this life could have been in the following verse:
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. (Genesis 3:8)
The LORD God “walking” in the garden was God in human form, the pre-incarnate Word of God. Here we are given a glimpse into the fact that God’s original intent was to walk amongst His people on the earth that He created for them. Adam and Eve “heard” the sound of Him, because this was a sound they were familiar with.
What was once excitement for Adam and Eve turned to fear after sin entered the world. Jesus Christ was then given a mission to destroy the power of sin and restore the fellowship which was lost. This world just plain sucks, but what God did in the person of Christ has revealed to us the awesome splendor of God’s love. He desires to continue to reveal it to each of us at a micro level. Each of us can now walk with the LORD God in our own garden, so to speak.
Scientific Reasons For The Trinity
I do not find the concept of the Trinity difficult, especially in light of all that I just wrote, however, Christians typically describe it as such. This is obviously due to our limited human perspective.
In this interesting article, Rich Deem explains:
There is much evidence from both the Bible and from science that demonstrates that God must exist and operate in dimensions of space and time other than those to which we are confined. God could not have created the universe if He were only a part of it. The Bible says the universe cannot contain him (1 Kings 8:27; Job 37:23).
Furthermore, after some thought experiments, Deem goes on to surmise:
Therefore a god that exhibits extra dimensions, when described in a lesser dimensional universe would seem to represent more than one entity.
The fact that God exists outside of our dimensions provides fertile ground for a scientific explanation of the Trinity.
Reading the Bible a few nights ago with my children, I came across the following statement from Jesus which caused me to reflect on this topic of dimensions:
But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:6; emphasis mine)
At a very simple level, we communicate with God “in secret” or outside of our visible, physical world. Our communication to Him leaves our known dimensions (or perhaps does so if we meet certain qualifications), yet, it effects our life in this world. God transcends the physical and time constraints of our world. His Spirit communicates to us “in secret” or in the spiritual realm, which may be another dimension(s)?
This is just the musing of a scientifically ignorant, free thinker, but I mention it as an example to hopefully show that the Trinity is only difficult to comprehend from man’s limited perspective. Perhaps God operates as a triunity —or what appears to us as a triunity—to navigate the dimensions of space and time in our universe.
The Trinity and Marriage
The following two verses are essential for understanding how the triunity of God influenced His creation:
Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth."
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:26–27; emphasis mine)
God referring to Himself as “us” is really the first direct reference to the Trinity in the Bible. The Hebrew name for (translated) “God” in these verses is Elohim. Elohim is a plural noun, while “image” is singular. God is one God, but as John Metzger stated in Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God, “Elohim revealed Himself to mankind as an indivisible plurality in unity.” Man was not just made in the image and likeness of God, but man is also an expression of His plurality. This is significant. The marital relationship of a man and woman was meant to be a reflection of God’s plurality, and likewise, God also views a married couple as one.
Recall how Jesus schooled the Pharisees:
And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:3–6; emphasis mine)
Here we have the only Godly foundation for marriage—one man and one woman. It is not just because God said so, but because it is a creative reflection of God Himself. A Godly marriage is a reflection of God’s plurality in unity. Also, a marital union in Christ includes the Holy Spirit because the Spirit is one with each believer (1 Corinthians 6:17); so we really have three persons together in the eyes of God.
The marital order is also a reflection of the subordination of the Trinity. Barackman explained this order as follows: “Being the Unbegotten, the Father is first in order; being the only Begotten, the Son is second; and proceeding from the Father through the Son, the Holy Spirit is third.” This is simply a subordination in order and activity. All three are equally God and have the same power. Likewise, the husband is not superior to the wife. They are both created in the image of God, but they have different roles to play within their plural union.
The Triunity of God Reflected in Man’s Design?
It is interesting to note that man is also a tripartite being—spirit, soul, and body. Tripartite man is not the same thing as God being three distinct persons, but perhaps there was some creative intent by God for man to reflect His triunity. In some ways I can see the spirit of man reflecting God the Father (God is spirit), the body reflecting Jesus Christ (God made flesh), and our soul reflecting the Holy Spirit. Just as our soul (thoughts, will, emotion) proceed from our spirit and is expressed in our bodies, the actions of the Holy Spirit proceed from God to reveal the life of Jesus Christ.
The Trinity is a foundational aspect of Christianity. To conclude, here is a summary of the key points of this teaching:
- God exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son (the Word, Jesus Christ), and God the Spirit—yet He is one God. He is an indivisible plurality in unity—a triunity—which is commonly referred to as the Trinity.
- Jesus Christ is how the invisible God becomes visible to man. Every false cult and religion denies the reality that God became flesh and dwelt among us.
- God reveals Himself to man and unites His family in love through the operation of the Trinity.
- God’s plurality in unity is a blueprint for His creation and is reflected in a Godly marriage.
Resources Referenced in This Teaching
For further exploration:
- Discovering the Mystery of the Unity of God by John B. Metzger. Over 800 pages long, this is the most thorough book on the triune nature of God that I am of aware. My wife and I own a copy and we recommend it as a foundational resource.
- Practical Christian Theology by Floyd H. Barackman. After reading so many great quotes from Barackman in Metzger’s book, I purchased a copy and am glad I did. It is a nice, easy to read reference for material relating to Christian doctrines.