In Genesis 18 describes a meeting between Yaweh and Abraham. Three men appeared near the great trees of Mamre, and Abraham recognizes the Lord. The text shows that it is Yaweh speaking, Yaweh who stays with Abraham as he pleads for Sodom, Yaweh who goes down to Sodom, and Yaweh who rains down burning sulfur from heaven in Genesis 19:24. The man in front of Abraham is addressed as God, speaks as God, and yet it is also God who goes down to the city and it is God who rains down fire from heaven.
Obviously a distinction in persons is being made without extra comment from the biblical author, yet only one God is named. So the personal distinctions of God are not a New Testament novelty. We have many other examples. In Genesis 31:11-13, the angel calls Himself God. Exodus 3:2-4 describes the angel of the Lord appearing to Abraham in the burning bush while the Lord speaks. In Joshua 5:13-15, the commander of the army of Yaweh stands before Joshua, and in Joshua 6:2 that commander’s words are Yaweh’s words. In Zechariah 4:6, the angel of Yaweh again speaks as Yaweh Himself.
Personal distinctions in the Godhead have been a part of Old Testament theology all along. The Jews gave up that theology when Christians used it to defend their faith, and when the Jews rejected that gospel, they were blinded. Early Christians have no problem with the unity of God or the personal distinctions of the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 6:4-5 is clear that there is only one God. Isaiah 45:5-6, Isaiah 45:14, and Isaiah 46:9 are clear that there is only one God. In the New Testament this is reflected again. 1 Corinthians 8:4-6, Ephesians 4:3-6, and James 2:19 all affirm the Old Testament teaching of the oneness of God while recognizing personal distinctions.
Ultimately, the problem people have with the Trinity is not God’s oneness or God’s complexity, but the incarnation — God in the flesh. Jews accuse Christians of being polytheistic when Christians argue that Jesus, the man from Nazareth, is part of the Trinity. Jesus is the stumbling block. Yet Jesus did claim to be God in John 10:30-33, and the Jews recognized this claim and tried to stone Him.
The Jews expected the Messiah and expected Him to be God. They did not expect Him to also be a man. Jeremiah 23:5-6 foretells the coming of the Messiah and that Messiah has the name of Yaweh. Isaiah 9:6-7 names the Savior as Mighty God and Everlasting Father. But what the Jews could not accept, and do not accept, is that our Messiah was also a mere man. Not a man who died and stayed dead, but an everlasting ruler.
Jude 4-5, Titus 2:13-14, 2 Peter 1:1 all reveal Jesus as the Savior who is God. Romans 9:5 says that Jesus is God over all and forever praised. Luke 1:76 quotes the prophesy of Malachi 3:1 to show that John the Baptist would prepare the way for God, yet John recognized Jesus as the One for whom he was preparing the way in John 1:26-34. The New Testament clearly teaches that Jesus is God and that the Holy Spirit is God.
How do we distinguish between the persons of the Trinity? We do not have three gods. All persons of the Trinity have the same nature, purpose, and goals. They are all divine, eternal, and infinite. They are not divided in any essential way. However, they are in a subject-object relationship with each other. Jesus prayed to the Father. He even prayed, “not my will, but yours be done.”
We come to know the Father through Jesus. We are justified by the Father due to our relationship with Jesus which is accomplished by the persuading work of the Holy Spirit. Christianity is inseparable from the Trinity.
God is a complex being and has always been considered unique. God is one God with 3 unique centers of personality that do not do the same work, but all work together with harmony for one purpose.
There is only one triune God. Our problem is not that we don’t understand this, but that we’ve been told that any idea we come up with is wrong and it can’t be like that. We can understand what Peter, Paul, and James wrote and they wrote about the Trinity. That doesn’t mean that we can understand all there is to know about God, or even about His nature in the Trinity, but we can understand that there is one God and there are three unique personalities that make up that one God.
Do we just study this out of curiosity, or is there some importance to it all? There is great importance to knowing that God is one God. If God had two or three wills or purposes, we would not have an orderly universe that we can understand. Because there is one God, there are absolutes. Because there is one God, there is one moral standard. There are not two opinions “up there” about what is right and wrong.
There is one God with one mind, one goal, one purpose, and one unchangeable nature. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Yet, if God is unchangeable, then He must be triune. How could the God that we know have existed before creation?
If God existed with no object with which to relate, then He would change with creation and take on a relational nature. But God was already a God of relationships. If God had never before communicated, then at creation he would have to change and become a God who communicates. Was there anything for God to love before creation? God was always a loving God because love is expressed between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. From all eternity, God has been a communicating and loving being.
The atonement itself is inconceivable without the Trinity. John 3:16 teaches that God so loved the world that He sent His son. The Son was sent, and He offered His life to Someone and ascended to Someone. The Father commands us to believe in His Son, and we know He lives in us because of the Spirit He gave us. That is the doctrine of the Trinity.
This is part 2 of the sixth topic in a twelve part series on Basic Theology. Each part is broken into two half-hour sections. These recordings are part of a series called Theologoumenon. They were recorded by Dr. Bush in 1979 so that people in the churches, not just in seminary classrooms, could have easy access to lessons in basic theology.
1. The Word of God (part 1 – part 2)
2. God the Creator (part 1 – part 2)
3. God the Redeemer (part 1 – part 2)
4. Redemption (part 1 – part 2)
5. The Holy Spirit and His Gifts (part 1 – part 2)
6. The Trinity (part 1 – part 2)
7. The Doctrine of Sin Part 1 (part 1 – part 2)
8. The Doctrine of Sin Part 2 (part 1 – part 2)
9. Salvation (part 1 – part 2)
10. Doctrine of the Church (part 1 – part 2)
11. Last Things (part 1 – part 2)
12. How to Recognize Heresy (part 1 – part 2)