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Question and Answer

The Trinity


I know the mystery of the Holy Trinity is not easy to grasp, but your explanations seem to make things easier to understand. Please explain how you understand the mystery of the Holy Trinity, and if possible include some illustrations or examples which can make a person who is new to Christianity to understand. Many of the youth we talk to have a hard time understanding the mystery of the Holy Trinity. Please include some Scripture passages if possible.


As to the Trinity: you are so right in speaking of this as a mystery which is beyond human comprehension. So I would not presume to try to scoop the ocean into my coffee cup and serve it to you. Still, what God reveals to us about Himself in His Word, the Bible, we are meant to receive by faith and to try to understand as we are able. Very large books have been written on this subject, and I am going to write you a short little letter. So do not think that I think this is all there is to say on the subject of the nature of the Almighty God, Creator of heaven and earth, Ruler and Judge of all.

In the Old Testament Scriptures, God laid the foundation for our knowing Him as the true and living God in contrast to all man-made so-called gods (false gods, idols). In addition to revealing Himself as the Creator of the heavens and the earth (that is, of all things—the entire universe—not only of things visible, but also of things invisible, such as angels), God especially emphasized that He is God alone. See especially Genesis 1:1, Deuteronomy 4:35, 39, 6:4, 1 Kings 8:60, Psalm 86:8-10, Isaiah 44:6, 45:5, 6, 18, 20-24, 46:5-10.

This is the message of Psalm 115: "Not to us, O lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory, because of Your covenant love and faithfulness. Why should the nations say, 'Where now is their God?' But our God is in the heavens; He does whatever He pleases. Their idols are silver and gold, the work of man's hands. They have mouths, but they cannot speak; They have eyes, but they cannot see; They have ears, but they cannot hear; They have noses, but they cannot smell; They have hands, but they cannot feel; They have feet, but they cannot walk; They cannot make a sound with their throat. Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them. O Israel, trust in the Lord...."

When Israel was unfaithful to the Lord and turned from Him to worship other gods, the Lord disciplined them. He sent foreign nations to conquer and destroy them and take them into captivity in other countries. In His mercy He brought a remnant back to the land of Israel. The lesson had been learned. Israel understood that there is only one God, the God who made heaven and earth, the God who revealed Himself to Adam; to Noah; to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; the God who spoke to Moses and told him His name is "I AM" or Yahweh; the Lord God who made His covenant with Israel and gave them His Law.

Hebrews 1:1 says, "God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways"—referring to all of God's revealing of Himself from Adam through Malachi in the Old Testament—and then goes on in vs. 2 to say, "in these last days has spoken to us in His Son...." Our Lord Jesus Christ is the great culmination of God's revelation of Himself. All the Old Testament prophets looked forward to Him (1 Peter 1:10-12). So, with the coming of fulfillment in Christ, God has revealed Himself more fully than before.

The one true God now reveals that He is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit - not three gods, but One God, One God having three persons. The words we use to speak of this are not themselves in the Bible ("Trinity," "persons"), but if we use them to say what the Bible says, then they are very helpful.

The Father is God. I will not spend much time on this, because no one has ever questioned that the Bible teaches this, but it is stated or assumed everywhere, for example, 1 Corinthians 8:6; Matthew 6:9; and Ephesians 4:6.

The Son is God who became a man and continues to be both God and man forever. Jesus, born of the virgin Mary, was fully human from the instant of his human conception in Mary's womb. He grew as a human; He was born; He nursed at her breast; He felt pain, hunger, and sorrow; He was tempted to sin (but never sinned—Hebrews 3:15); He suffered on the cross and died. He received his human name "Jesus" at his birth, as the angel commanded, but His existence did not begin when He was conceived, only His human existence. John 1:1-3, 14 declares, "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 came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.... And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth...." These words speak of our Lord Jesus Christ.

See in addition John 5:17-23 and 20:28 (Thomas's confession of faith in Jesus: "my Lord and my God"). Likewise Romans 9:5 says not only that the Christ descended from the Jewish fathers according to the flesh, but also that He is "over all, God blessed forever. Amen."

Other relevant Scriptures include Colossians 1:16, 17; 2:9; Hebrews 1:1-3, 8 (compare with Psalm 45:6, 7), 10-12 (compare with Psalm 102:25-27—the glory ascribed to Yahweh in Psalm 102 is ascribed to Jesus in Hebrews 1), and Philippians 2:9-11 (compare with Isaiah 45:23). There are many more passages to which reference could be made. They add up to this: As God, the Son is eternal and equal to the Father (John 1:1; 5:23; 10:30; 17:5). As man, the Son became Jesus when He was incarnate in the womb of Mary, and now He continues to be both God and man forever (see Luke 24:36-43 on the continuing reality of His humanity after His resurrection). As the God-man, Jesus Christ voluntarily subjected Himself to His Father during His time of humiliation on earth to be our Redeemer (Philippians 2:5-8).

For further discussion of this topic, see Chapter VIII, Of Christ the Mediator, in the Westminster Confession of Faith. (Click on a footnote number to see supporting Scripture; click on the footnote number again to return to the main text.)

The Holy Spirit is God (and a person). See Acts 5:3,4 and 1 Corinthians 2:11. (Although there is no specific chapter in the Westminster Confession of Faith devoted to the Holy Spirit, there are many references to Him throughout the document as well as in the Larger and Shorter Catechisms.)

These are three distinct persons who act individually and at the same time, in perfect harmony with each other in the unity of the One true God. See Matthew 3:16, 17; 10:40; 17:5; John 3:35; 15:10; 16:14, 28; 17:1, 5, 18; Matthew 28:19; and 2 Corinthians 13:14.

How can the one living and true God at the same time be three divine persons in a perfect unity—three persons in One God, one God in three persons? The Bible teaches it and we accept it, and we bow before God (Father, Son, and Spirit); we worship and adore Him who is above and beyond our understanding. We are mere creatures, and sinful at that; He is God.

I know that I have not "explained" the mystery of the Trinity. I have only stated it somewhat succinctly and pointed to the places in His Word where God reveals these truths about Himself. But I hope this helps you a little.

The Lord guide you in His truth and righteousness.

About Q&A

"Questions and Answers" is a weekly feature of the OPC website. 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.

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