What Is the Trinity?

An important yet mysterious concept is the doctrine of the Trinity. There is only one God in essence, yet he is three in person and subsistence.

This article covers an important doctrine in the Christian faith, the Trinity. It is one of the most mysterious doctrines of our Christian faith.

Activity: List the names of all the Greek and Roman gods that you know.

Unlike many other religious beliefs, as Christians, we believe there is only one God.

The trinity is affirming that God is “one in essence” and “three in person.”

1. One God in Essence

  • The Greek philosophers were looking for ultimate reality, that which does not manifest change. They were looking for the essence of things. They called it the ousios, which is the present participle of the Greek verb “to be.” We would translate ousios into English by the word being. The best synonym for the Greek idea of being may be the English word essence.
  • From the very beginning, the Bible teaches us that there is only one God.
  • Read Genesis 1:1
  • There is one and only one God.
  • This one God made everything.
  • The Bible speaks that our creator God is the only one God. There is no other.
  • Read Deuteronomy 6:4
  • 1 Kings 8:60 — “so that all the peoples of the earth may know that Yahweh is God; there is no one else.”
  • The Bible is clear. There is one and only one God.
  • Read Exodus 20:3
  • Is God saying that we can have many gods, but God needs to be first?
  • “before me” means “in my presence.”
  • And the presence of Yahweh God extends throughout the entire creation.
  • No, God is saying that there are no other gods because God alone reigns as deity.

2. One God in Three Persons

Activity: Take two minutes to choose who is your favorite superhero.

  • This is one of the hardest Christian doctrines to understand. But it’s still important for us to understand for two reasons.
  • This is who God really is.
  • Seeing God as one in essence and three in person allows us to understand the ways in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit relate to one another and do their work.

Myth #1: Modalism

  • All three persons of the Trinity are one person but they behave in unique “modes.”

Myth #2: Tritheism

  • There are not three gods. That would be tritheism which is a form of polytheism.
  • To say that there is one God in three persons is not a contradiction. Rather, it is a paradox.
  • A paradox refers to something that, when placed alongside of something else, appears to be contradictory until closer examination reveals it is not so.
  • Contradiction
  • God is one in essence and three in essence.
  • God is one in person and three in person.
  • Paradox
  • God is one in essence and three in person.
  • The word person is equivalent to the term subsistence. In this word, we have the prefix sub with the same root word, sisto, so subsistence literally means “to stand under.” Thus, this word gets at the idea that while God is one in essence, there are three subsistences, three persons, that stand under the essence. They are part of the essence. All three have the essence of deity.
  • The concept of the trinity is not completely taught in the Old Testament, but there are hints of it.
  • Gen 1:26 – “Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness.”
  • Gen 3:22 – “Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil.”
  • Gen 11:7 – “Come, let us go down and there confuse their language, so that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
  • Isa 6:8 – “And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?”
  • We do not have the full revelation of the Trinity until the New Testament.

Read Matthew 3:16–17

  • Here we see all three persons present.
  • We hear the voice of God the Father.
  • We see Jesus acknowledged as God the Son.
  • We see a dove descending from heaven on Jesus as God the Spirit.

Read Matthew 28:19–20

  • The word “name” is singular, not plural.
  • There is only one God, and He is one in essence as indicated by His one “name.”
  • God’s name, however, has three parts: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

We say the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, but we don’t say that the Father is the Son, the Son is the Holy Spirit, or the Holy Spirit is the Father.

All examples, analogies, and illustrations are inadequate to help us understand how God is both one essence yet three persons.

The Bible teaches that there is one God. The Father is fully God, the Son is fully God, and the Holy Spirit is fully God. But they are not three gods but three Persons. Each of whom expresses fully that one God.

Read excerpt of the Athanasian Creed

Athanasian Creed

We worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity; neither confounding the Persons nor dividing the substance.

For there is one Person of the Father, another of the Son, and another of the Holy Spirit.

But the Godhead of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit is all one, the glory equal, the majesty coeternal.

Such as the Father is, such is the Son, and such is the Holy Spirit…

The Father eternal, the Son eternal, and the Holy Spirit eternal. And yet they are not three eternals, but one eternal. As also there are not three uncreated nor three incomprehensibles, but one uncreated and one incomprehensible.

So likewise the Father is almighty, the Son almighty, and the Holy Spirit almighty. And yet they are not three almighties, but one almighty.

So the Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God; and yet they are not three Gods, but one God.