Where do we get the idea of the Trinity when that word isn’t mentioned in the Bible?
Have you ever had this conversation at your door?
Your visitor asks, “Did you know that the words triune and trinity are not in the Bible?”
You respond, “Of course, they’re in the Bible. Let me show you.” You fire up your favorite Bible app and search for trinity. The search comes back empty. You search for triune. You get the same result.
A slight smile flickers on the face of your front-door guest. “You did not find triune in the Bible, did you?” Without a pause he continues, “The teaching that God is triune didn’t begin until centuries after the Bible was completed. The Trinity is not taught in the Bible.”
What does the Bible say
The words trinity and triune are not in the Bible. But that doesn’t mean the God who wrote the Bible isn’t triune.
Imagine this: You are a new Christian. You have begun studying the Bible, but you don’t have commentaries to guide you. You notice that God is frequently described as a single being. You’ve highlighted verses like “I am the Lord, and there is no other; apart from me there is no God” (Isaiah 45:5).
But you’ve also discovered the Bible describes this one God as a Father, Son, and Spirit. For example, when Jesus commissioned us to make disciples, he instructed that we baptize “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19).
To add to the confusion, you’ve noted that the Bible says that the Father, Son, and Spirit are each 100 percent God. The Scriptures say:
- the Father is God: “Grace and peace from God the Father” (Titus 1:4);
- the Son is God: “From [the fathers of the Jewish race] is traced the human ancestry of the Messiah [Christ], who is God over all” (Romans 9:5); and
- the Holy Spirit is God: “The Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we . . . are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:17,18).
The Bible is also clear that only God provides forgiveness and eternal life. Yet it tells you that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each provide us with forgiveness and eternal life.
- “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord” (Psalm 37:39).
- “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
- “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus” (Romans 3:24).
- “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God” (Romans 8:14).
You are confused. The Bible says there is only one God. It says this God alone rescues us from the punishment our sins deserve. Yet somehow within that God are the Father, Son, and Spirit. And all three—Father, Son, and Spirit—are responsible for our rescue from hell.
Early Christians wrestled with the same difficulty as this imagined new believer. They studied the Scriptures. They realized God says that he is a single God and often notes the three separate persons and that each of those separate persons is fully divine. Confused or not, those Christians opted to trust God’s Word rather than their human reason.
A Latin label
But what term could describe this God? After a thorough search, early Christians realized the Bible doesn’t provide a term. So they used two Latin words to describe God: the word for three and the word for one. When those words come to us in English, they are triune (three and one) and trinity (tri-unity).
The term triune gives Christians a way to talk about the three-in-one God, but we are nonetheless baffled by the concept because of the limitations of human language and reason.
The Bible’s teachings about the Trinity set Christianity apart from all other religions.
That should not surprise us. “How can we miserable, poor mortals comprehend this mystery?” Martin Luther asks about the Trinity. “Is it not blindness above all blindness . . . to presume to know what is beyond and above all reason and of which no one except God alone can speak?” (What Luther Says, 4466).
We should expect that the God who has no limits will tell us things about himself that go beyond our severely limited comprehension. The Bible’s insistence that God is triune is an example. This is a truth we humans would never have imagined or developed on our own; God had to reveal it. And he revealed it not so we would understand it but so we would be overawed by it—and then by him and all he has done for us. It is a truth that brings us to exclaim with Paul, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” (Romans 11:33).
Rather than attempting to explain away the Bible’s teaching that God is triune, we stand with our Savior who proclaims his Father’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We agree with the psalmist, “Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89). We believe God is triune because he says so even though we can’t understand it.
The Bible’s teachings about the Trinity set Christianity apart from all other religions. Only the true religion teaches that God is triune. Therefore, by this teaching, we can determine whether another religion is true or false and which one follows the Bible. The teaching about the Trinity demands a true religion that honors the truth of God’s Word over human reason. Any religion that attempts to make the triune God fit into our tiny brains must be false. The true religion will acknowledge that God is infinitely greater than we can imagine.
Finally, we must add this: The true religion will celebrate that the triune God was “all in” in his determination to provide forgiveness and eternal life to sinful, rebellious humans. The Father, Son, and Spirit each have an indispensable role in the one God’s plan for bringing us to heaven. No part of the triune God sat on the sidelines while the others fought the battle. They fought together. They fought as one, because they are one. That is how much God loved the world.
Let’s return to that visitor on your doorstep. He told you, “The teaching that God is triune didn’t begin until centuries after the Bible was completed. The Trinity is not taught in the Bible.”
“Where did you get that information?” you could ask politely. “It’s true that the word trinity is not mentioned in the Bible. But the teaching that there is one God who is three different persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is definitely in the Bible. I’d be happy to show you. You’ll be surprised at how much the triune God loves you.”
Author: James Aderman
Volume 109, Number 06
Issue: June 2022