The Christian Bible Reference Site

What Is the Trinity?

Frequently Asked Questions

Introduction

The doctrine of the Trinity states that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit coexist in the unity of one God. The term "Trinity" is never mentioned in the Bible. It is the Christian Church's way of reconciling the Old Testament teaching that there is only one God (Deuteronomy 6:4) with New Testament teachings about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Trinity [is] the term by which is expressed the unity of three Persons in the one God. The Christian doctrine is: (1) That there is only one God, one divine nature and being. (2) This one divine Being is tripersonal, involving the distinctions of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. (3) These three are joint partakers of the same nature and majesty of God.1

Most Christian denominations accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but not Christian Scientists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah's Witnesses, and some other denominations. Jews and Muslims also reject the doctrine of the Trinity.

Three Different Gods?

Some people think Christians worship three different gods, but that is a misinterpretation of the Trinity. Christians worship the same one true God who revealed Himself to Abraham (Genesis 17:1-8) - the same God worshiped by Jews and Muslims. However, Jesus taught that God reveals Himself to us in three ways (John 14:6-10, 14:25-26):

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20, NRSV)

God the Father

God the Father is the creator and sustainer of the universe. As mere humans, we cannot see or touch God and we cannot fully understand how or why He came into being and created the universe:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord.
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.
(Isaiah 55:8-9, NRSV)

However, the Bible reveals some of God's characteristics in ways that we can understand:

There is more information in our article "What does the Bible say about God?"

Jesus the Son

Jesus, Son of God the Father, came to us in human form for our salvation (John 3:16, 1 John 4:8-12). Jesus is identified as "Son of God" about 40 times in the New Testament (Matthew 14:33, Mark 1:1, Luke 1:26-38, John 20:30-31, Galatians 2:20, etc.) There are several verses that identify Jesus more closely with God the Father (John 8:19, 10:30, 14:8-11). Jesus is no longer on earth in bodily form, but He is still with us in Spirit (Matthew 28:18-20).

Many people think "Christ" was Jesus' last name, but "Christ" is actually a title. "Christ" is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word "Messiah," which means "anointed one." There were many prophecies in the Old Testament of a coming Messiah who would be the savior of the Jewish people (Isaiah 11:1-9, 42:1-4, Jeremiah 23:5-6, Malachi 3:1, etc.) Those prophesies were fulfilled in Jesus (Matthew 1:1, 16:15-17, Luke 1:30-33, John 20:30-31, etc.) However, Jesus was not the powerful military and political leader many of the Jews had expected.

We cannot fully understand the relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son, but the Bible explains different aspects of the relationship in these ways:

There is more information in our article "What does the Bible say about Jesus Christ?"

The Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is also called the Advocate, Counselor, Helper or Comforter (John 14:16, 14:26), and Spirit of truth (John 16:13). The Holy Spirit is, in a way, the presence and power of the Father and Son in the world today. The Father and Son speak to us, guide us, and send us Their love via the Holy Spirit.

The original New Testament used the Greek term Pneúma tó Hágion. It literally means "the Holy Wind," and it conveyed the idea of the breath of God as invisible and immaterial but powerful (John 20:21-22 ). The old King James Version of the Bible usually translated this into English as "Holy Ghost." However, the English word "ghost" has now taken on the meaning of a disembodied soul and is associated with Halloween, so nearly all Bible versions published since the 1800s use the term "Holy Spirit" instead.

The Holy Spirit is another mystery we cannot fully understand, but the Bible does tell us these things:

Conclusion

The exact relationship between God the Father, Jesus the Son, and the Holy Spirit is a great spiritual mystery we cannot fully understand, and it is never stated explicitly in the Bible. The doctrine of the Trinity is the Christian Church's attempt to reconcile the various Bible teachings and explain the relationship in an understandable way.

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1Merrill F. Unger, The New Unger's Bible Dictionary, Moody Press, 1988.