A Brief Study: The Trinity-Three Persons Are One Infinite Being-One God
Modified from "Growing Strong to Serve" © ISI 2000
When you read in the Bible about God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, you might think "How many Gods are there? Is there one God or three Gods or more? And what do Christians mean when they say God is a trinity?" (Literally the word "trinity" means "tri-unity" - three-in-one, or a three- fold unity.)
The Problem Of Our Limited Human Minds
God is infinite and not the same as anything in our material world. He is greater than finite (limited) human minds can fully understand. Yet, while our knowledge of God is incomplete, it is not necessarily inaccurate. We can know correctly some characteristics of God. We have this same experience of limited but accurate knowledge in our relationships with our fellow human beings. We can never know everything, such as every thought and feeling, of even our closest friends and family members, including our spouses. Yet we can still know them very well. We can have accurate knowledge about them, including many of their abilities and attitudes.
The Problem Of The Limitations Of Language
Our language can describe only what we observe or experience here on earth. Even the language of our imaginations depends on our personal, earth-based experience. For example, you can form a picture in your mind of a chair. You can describe it. But can you form an accurate picture of a molecule? We do not know exactly what it looks like. We can only draw diagrams and make physical models that approximate its structure and functions. We do not know what it really looks like. Likewise, we know atoms exist because we can observe their effects. We know their functions. We can describe their actions and relationships mathematically and chemically. Likewise, even though we cannot make an accurate picture of God, we can know what He is like by descriptions of Him, and by observing the actions of God - what God does. We cannot see the wind, but we can see the effects of its blowing.
Incomplete But Accurate Descriptions of God by God Himself from the Bible
Language is symbolic representation by sounds or written symbols of objects (including physical beings), events, feelings and mental concepts (ideas). But God is not any of these things. He is not physical matter like the world He made. He is neither emotions nor actions. And He is certainly not mere ideas, or a great single Idea. Rather, He is a spiritual being, indeed the one and only Supreme Spiritual Being. So God is greater than our language can fully describe.
But God can be known to some extent through the world and universe He has made. This is much like the way that an artist can be partly understood through his paintings or a watchmaker through his clocks. In this manner we can know that God exists, that He is incredibly powerful and intelligent, and marvelously creative. (See Romans 1:19, 20; Psalm 19:1, 2.)
In addition, God has caused a book to be written about Himself, the Bible. In it He revealed what He is like in ways that we can understand. He used the things of our own experience, including facts of nature. More importantly, He used the activities and characteristics of us human beings. Although God is Spirit, He is also a Person, someone who thinks, feels and chooses. He is a Someone, not a Something. So God can describe Himself by analogy to humans, we whom He made in His image (Genesis 1:27). Although we are finite and possessing physical bodies, we share with God the characteristics of persons -spiritual natures, high intelligence, emotions and wills. Like God we communicate, create, love beauty and possess a sense of right and wrong and of personal meaning and worth. Moreover, God even became like us, becoming a human being in the Person of Jesus Christ.
In these ways, the infinite God revealed Himself to finite us. These representations or revelations of Himself are not complete, but they are accurate, and they can be known by us. For example, the Bible teaches us the following names and characteristics of God.
King: He has authority, right and power to govern and make laws. He should receive honor and obedience.
Good Father: He loves and provides for the people He has created.
Shepherd: He guides, feeds and protects people, who are totally dependent on Him.
All-knowing, all-wise: He has complete, perfect, infinite knowledge and judgment, more than all professors, judges and libraries in the world.
All-powerful: Not only is He like thunder, lightning, wind, earthquakes, volcanoes and the sea, but He is infinitely more powerful; He controls them. He even sustains the universe by His powerful words (Hebrews 1:3).
What "Trinity" Means, And Does Not Mean
God also told us that He is only a single God. He is the One who is infinite and who is the source and foundation of everything else. There can only be one infinite Being. But this one infinite being is composed of three persons. They are named in the Bible: God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Each has His own individual mind, feelings, will and honor. But because each is perfect in knowledge, love and moral goodness, God never disagrees with Himself. These three persons of God are One, one in essence (being), purpose and desire.
Someone might ask, how can three be one? Is that not a contradiction? The answer is, "not necessarily." God's description of Himself in the Bible, including Jesus' teaching, is as follows:
not that X = 3X (1 God equals 3 Gods);
but rather that Y = 3X (1 being is 3 persons; 3 individual persons exist in 1 infinite substance or essence or being)
God is not physical matter, which has material parts and occupies space, but an infinite, spiritual being which cannot be divided. God is:
not 1+1+1 = 3 (the Father plus the Son plus the Holy Spirit in total
but (1) (1) (1) = 1 (one times one times one: the Father is fully God, the Son is fully God
and the Holy Spirit is fully God).
We are familiar with things in the world that are complex unities, such as compound unities, a square and cube:
|a line is an absolute unity: one dimension only;|
|a square is a compound unity: two dimensions but still one object, not two separate units;|
|a cube is one integral object in three dimensions. For example, each face of it may have a different color.|
The world also contains other complicated unities called composite unities:
A single human body is one individual life, operating as one, unified self. But at the same time the body is billions of individual cells, each with its own life directed by itself in its function and reproduction.
A single unified orchestra produces a composite, harmonious sound of a symphony. And yet that orchestra is composed of many different instruments, each having its own sound. Some of the individual instrument's sounds are quite different from the other individual sounds. All the sounds together make one sound - the harmonized sound of the symphony.
While none of these analogies give us a complete understanding of the triune nature of God, they do help us to apprehend and accept it as fact. It may not seem logical to us that parallel lines ever could touch. But we know from mathematics that parallel lines do meet in infinity. Likewise, we cannot say that God can be only what we can understand or imagine about Him. God is greater than any of our concepts. Therefore, we must accept His description of Himself. We cannot know God better than He knows Himself and chooses to describe Himself in the Bible.
Bible Passages Describing The Triune God
God is just one God.
"The Lord, he is God; there is no other besides him .... The Lord, he is God in heaven above and on the earth below; there is no other .... The Lord is one" (Deuteronomy 4:35, 39; 6:4).
"God is only one" (Galatians 3:20).
"For there is one God" (1 Timothy 2:5).
The one God exists in three Persons.
"As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said,' This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased"' (Matthew 3:16,17).
"'I am God. I am the beginning and the end. I made the earth with my own hands. With my right hand I spread out the skies. When I call them, they come together before me .... Come to me and listen to this. From the beginning I have spoken openly. From the time it began, I was there.' Now the Lord God has sent me with his Spirit." (Isaiah 48:12b, 13, 16).
"Then Jesus came to them and said,' All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit..."' (Matthew 28:19).
Jesus is fully God, equal to God the Father and to God the Holy Spirit. (See also John 10:30-33; 8:57-59; 20:28, 29.)
"Then Jesus ... said, 'All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him"' (Matthew 12:27).
[Jesus said:] "And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of truth .... When the Counselor comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father, he will testify about me..." (John 14:16,17a; 14:26, NIV).
No human can fully know or understand all of who God is. Only God can know Himself completely. Yet Jesus knows God fully. So Jesus is not just a man, but is God. The Father and the Son are distinct, so each can be the object of knowledge of the other. Jesus is God the Son who knows God the Father.
In the same way the Holy Spirit knows the mind of God in the way that only God can know Himself. So the Holy Spirit also is God. (See also John 14:16,17a; 14:26, quoted just above.)
"No one knows the thoughts that another person has. Only a person's spirit that lives in him knows his thoughts. It is the same with God. No one knows the thoughts of God. Only the Spirit of God knows God's thoughts" (1 Corinthians 2:11).
See also the Trinity illustrated