The Trinity Paradox: One God in Three Persons

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Christianity teaches there is only one God but that the He exists as three distinct persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. But how can there be three distinct persons, each called God, without there being three separate Gods?

This could be called “the Trinity paradox,”1  and it is is a huge stumbling stone to many people. Judaism and Islam, major monotheistic religions, accuse Christianity of being polytheistic—believing in three separate Gods.

Could you explain the Biblical basis for belief in the Trinity? In seeking a solution to the “Trinity paradox,” let’s examine the Biblical basis for saying that there is only one God but that He exists in three distinct persons.

One God

The books of Deuteronomy and Isaiah contain some of the strongest statements in Scripture asserting the existence of only one God.

  • Deuteronomy 4:35 says, “Unto thee it was shown, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.”
  • Isaiah 44:6 instructs, “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.”
  • Isaiah 45:21, 22 declares, “There is no God else beside me; a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me. Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth: for I am God, and there is none else.”

The “shema” of Deuteronomy 6:4, recited daily by Jewish people everywhere, is probably the classic Scripture on the unity of God. “Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is one!” (Deut. 6:4).

In the New Testament, Paul writes, “ For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5). In 1 Corinthians 8:4 we read, “We know that an idol is nothing in the world, and that there is none other God but one.”

Ephesians 4:6 informs us that there is “one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all.” These statements teach two important truths:

  1. There are no other gods except the one true God;
  2. The one true God exists as “one” God, not three Gods. [2]

A plurality of gods is the leading error of paganism and is emphatically denied by Scripture.

A plurality of gods is the leading error of paganism and is emphatically denied by Scripture

Three Persons

But what is the Biblical evidence for Christianity’s claim that the one true God exists as three distinct persons?

THE FATHER

First, there is Scriptural evidence that a person called “the Father” is the one true God

There are thirteen New Testament verses that use the phrase “God the Father.” [3]

For example, Peter writes about the “foreknowledge of God the Father” (1 Pet. 1:2). John closes one of his epistles with the phrase, “Grace be with you, mercy, and peace, from God the Father…” (2 John, 1:3).

The evidence for the one true God being identified as “God the Father” is so great that no one denies this assertion. Therefore, we may confidently say, there is a “Person” called God the Father who is the one true God.

THE LORD JESUS

There is also evidence that a person called “the Lord Jesus” is the one true God

Isaiah 44:6, which strongly teaches there is only one God, describes the one true God as “the first and the last.” “Thus saith the LORD the King of Israel, and his redeemer the LORD of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God.” The true God is the “first and the last.” There can be only one “first and last.”

This same concept is presented in the New Testament in Revelation 1:8 in the phrase “Alpha and Omega” which speaks of the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet. The verse states, “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.”

This “first/last,” “Alpha/Omega,” and “beginning/ending” description of God is repeated again in the last chapter of Revelation. John records the statement, “And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be” (Rev. 22:12).

And, in the following verse the one who is coming quickly is identified: “I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last” (Rev. 22:13). Since there can be only one “first/last,” “Alpha/Omega,” or “beginning/ending,” and since the Alpha and Omega is the Almighty God, we know for certain the identity of the one coming quickly—it is the one true God of Scripture.

We now come to Revelation 22:20a where John continues, “He which testifies these things says, surely I come quickly. Amen.” Then the Apostle John attaches a personal name to the one who is coming quickly when he says, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Rev. 22:20b). Thus the Apostle John identifies the one true God of the Bible as the Lord Jesus.

John identifies the one true God of the Bible as the Lord Jesus.

THE HOLY SPIRIT

Finally, there is evidence that a person called “the Holy Spirit” is the one true God

The Book of Acts recounts the devious actions of a married couple named Ananias and Sapphira. They sold a piece of property and wanted everyone to think they were sacrificially giving all the money to the work of the Lord.

They had no obligation to give any of their money, but evidently wanted the people to believe they were donating the entire amount. Peter discerned the lie and said to Ananias, “Why hath Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (Acts 5:3).

Please observe the introduction of a person termed “the Holy Spirit.” That the Holy Spirit is a person, rather than a “force” or “influence” is established by the fact you cannot lie to a force or an influence. You lie to a person.

Peter continued his rebuke by saying, “While it remained, was it not your own? and after it was sold, was it not in your own power? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied unto men, but unto God” (Acts 5:4). Here we have the identification of the Holy Spirit as the one true God of Scripture.

This means there is a third person called the “Holy Ghost (Spirit)” who is the one true God.

One God in Three Persons

We have seen that the Bible insists there is only one true God but also teaches that there are three persons who are each identified as God. But are these three persons distinct personalities or are they only three different expressions (modes) of the one true God?

The Distinction of “Person” and “Substance”

Let us begin our answer with Hebrews 1:1-3 which teaches that Jesus, the Son of God, is “the express image” of the “person” (hupostasis) of the Father. This passage teaches the “person” (hupostasis) of the Father is different from the “person” (hupostasis) of the Son.

However, since there exists but one God, the distinction of “persons” cannot be a distinction of “essence” (homoousios) since there is only one “essence” (homoousios) or “same substance”) allowable in order to have just one God. Jesus is to be distinguished not from the Father’s essence (homoousios), but from the Father’s hupostasis or person.

It was through these two great theological terms, homoousios and hupostasis, that the early Church fought to keep ts followers from heresy. The term homoousios is compounded of homos (“the same”), and ousia (“substance”).

This term guarded the early church against the Arian heresy (equivalent to the modern day Jehovah Witnesses teaching) that denied Jesus was of the same substance of the Father (i.e., denied that Jesus was truly God).

The term hupostasis guarded the early church against the Sabellian heresy which admitted the Deity of Jesus but denied He was a person distinct from the Father (equivalent to the modern day United Pentecostal Church and other “Jesus only” groups, that deny there is a distinction of persons in the one true God).

Biblical Evidence for Three Distinct Persons Within the One God

The Scriptural basis for saying that the Father and the Son are persons distinct from each other is derived from

  1. Jesus’ statement in which He refers to the Father as “another” (John 5:32, 37);
  2. Statements in which the Father and the Son are distinguished as the “begetter” and the “begotten” (Psa. 2:7; John 1:14, 18; 3:16); and
  3. Statements in which the Father and the Son are distinguished as the “sender” and the “sent” (John 10:36; Gal. 4:4).

The Scriptural basis for saying the Father and the Son are distinct from the Spirit is found in Jesus’ statement that the Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 14:16, 17; 15:26). Jesus informed the disciples that He had been functioning as the disciples’ Comforter. He was now promising that after His departure the Father would send them another Comforter.

The logic that follows is: if Jesus himself was a person, then the Spirit who is to assume the role of “another” Comforter must also be a person. Keep in mind, though, that the claim that there are three distinct persons in the Godhead is not tritheism (the assertion there are three Gods).

The fact there is but one essence shared by the three persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) establishes Christianity’s claim that it teaches monotheism.

The fact there is but one essence shared by the three persons establishes Christianity’s claim that it teaches monotheism

Trinitarian Formulas in the New Testament

There are three classic Trinitarian formulas in the New Testament. Jesus, when giving the Great Commission identified three distinct persons in the Godhead: “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat. 28:19).

Paul also identified three distinct persons in the Godhead when he wrote: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen” (2 Cor. 13:14)

In like manner, Peter does the same: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied” (1 Pet. 1:2).

Conclusion

There is only one God, but He reveals Himself as three distinct persons. Admittedly, this is a mystery to our minds. That is why the term “Trinitarian paradox” occurs in the title of this message.

However, because the Bible teaches the truth of the Trinity, I choose to believe it and am awestruck by it. May Christians ever keep the wonder of the Trinity alive in their minds and keep the distinction of the three persons clear in their thinking.

 


 

Originally published in God’s Revivalist. Used by permission.

  1. “The word Trinity is from the Latin trinitas, which is a compound word, from tres, three, and unus, one; therefore, the signification of the word is three-one, or, as it is used in theology, three in one.” (Ralston, Elements of Divinity, p. 66).
  2. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word translated “one” (echad) in Deuteronomy 6:4 is not necessarily a numerical singular. It can be used to indicate a composite unity, for it is the same word used to indicate the unity of a husband and wife when they
    become “one” (echad) flesh (Gen. 2:24).
  3. John 6:27; 1 Cor. 8:6; Gal. 1:1, 3; Eph. 6:23; Phil. 2:11; 1Thess. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:2; Titus 1:4; 1 Pet. 1:2; 2 Pet. 1:17; 2 John 1:3; Jude 1:1.
Allan Brown
Dr. Allan Brown is Professor and Chair of the Division of Ministerial Education at God's Bible School & College. He holds his PhD in Old Testament Interpretation from Bob Jones University and is the author of several books and articles.