Question and Answer
How can one explain the Trinity simply?
How can one explain the Trinity simply to a new believer?
It may seem like a daunting question at first, but when we think about it the truth of God's triune nature is meant to be a joy, a comfort, and a wonder to us!
One place to start is to realize that any analogy or comparison we try to use (and I'll suggest one) will always fall short of the truth of the triune nature of God. That is due in part to our sin, of course. We are not able to see or understand clearly because sin affects all of us. But also we are creatures and the triune God is the creator. His thoughts are not our thoughts and his ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). It is to be expected that there are things about God our creator that we, as creatures, simply cannot understand. One further thing is that the doctrine of the Trinity is taught in the unfolding of God's revelation about himself rather than in a specific chapter. If we approach the Bible with an eye open to teaching about the Trinity we will find it from Genesis 1:26-28 to Matthew 28:19-20 to 2 Corinthians 13:14.
One thought I've found very helpful is that because God reveals himself as one God in three persons, equal in substance, power, and glory, the Trinity teaches us that relationship, communication, and love are central to what God tells us about himself. You probably know that Islam denies the Trinity and emphasizes the oneness of God. Dr. Bob Letham has pointed out that this means that for Islam you cannot say "Allah is love." Allah is power, Allah is will exercising power, but Allah is not love because love means another or others are central to his being and Allah is alone. But the God of Scripture is love (1 John 4:7-8). The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit love one another. The Son delights to please his heavenly Father, Jesus is called the beloved Son, and the Spirit loves to bring honor and praise to the Son. There is mutual service and self-giving by the members of the Godhead to one another and that spills over into creation and redemption.
In explaining the Trinity to your friend, begin, perhaps, with the work of salvation. Each member of the Trinity is involved in the salvation of sinners. God the Father determines to save sinners by sending his beloved Son. God the Son, out of loving obedience to his Father and love to lost sinners, comes to die in the place of sinners. The Holy Spirit, sent from the Father and the Son, comes to reveal the Son, draw sinners to Christ, and bring glory to the Father. God reveals his trinitarian nature in the work of salvation which, again, demonstrates that God is love (John 3:16, etc.).
Of all the attempted illustrations of the Trinity I've seen the one that comes closest to showing biblical truth is that of the apple. The apple is unique, it is not a pear, banana, or orange, but the apple consists of various parts. The seeds are apple seeds and will produce no other kind of fruit. Without the seeds there are no more apples. The peel is there to protect the seeds and the flesh. It is not banana skin and is uniquely suited for the apple. And when you bite into the apple you know that it is not a pear, blueberry, or anything other than an apple. All three parts are uniquely apple, all are separate from other fruits, all are necessary for the apple to be what it is. In the Trinity the three persons are all of the same kind (God/apple), all have unique roles they play in the Godhead, and they would not be the God of the Bible if they were not triune. The example isn't perfect, of course, but it reminds us that we must hold on to both the "one-ness" of the Godhead with the plurality or "three-ness" of the persons.
"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. At least one new question is posted each week, so there should always be something new here for you to read. (For those who would like to look at previous questions and answers, they will continue to be available as well.)
The questions come from individuals like yourself. If you have questions about biblical and theological matters, you are invited to send them by e-mail by using the "Pose a Question" link on the OPC home page or by clicking here.
The purpose of the OPC website's "Questions and Answers" is to respond to biblical and theological questions. Matters of church discipline, disputes, or debates go beyond the scope of our work. We recommend that you present your concerns in these areas to the appropriate judicatory. In most cases this will be to a local pastor, elder, or session. We do not want the website to replace personal involvement in, or commitment to, the local, visible church.
While we will respond to every serious questioner, we are not bound to give a substantive answer to every question, should we deem the question to be beyond the scope of our purpose or our own ability to answer.
You will receive an answer by email. Please be patient as many of our respondents are busy pastors. The response to your question may take up to two weeks. Some of the questions submitted will be chosen to be posted here, along with the corresponding answers.
The answers come from individual ministers in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church expressing their own convictions and do not necessarily represent an "official" position of the Church, especially in areas where the Standards of the Church (the Scriptures and the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms) are silent.
Note that the "Questions and Answers" posted on the site have been editedall personal references are removed, Scripture references may be added, and sometimes portions are expandedto make the questions and answers more useful to a larger audience.