Is the Doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible?
Some people who reject the Trinity doctrine often claim that the word “Trinity” is not found in Scripture. Of course, there is no verse that says “God is three Persons” or “God is a Trinity.” This is all evident and true, but it proves nothing. There are many words and phrases that Christians use, which are not found in the Bible. For example, the word “Bible” is not found in the Bible.
More to the point, opponents of the Trinity doctrine claim that a Trinitarian view of God’s nature and being can’t be proven from the Bible. Since the books of the Bible are not written as theological tracts, this may seem on the surface to be true. There is no statement in Scripture that says, “God is three Persons in one being, and here is the proof. . .”
However, the New Testament does bring God (Father), the Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit together in such a way as to strongly imply the Trinitarian nature of God. Three Scriptures are quoted below as a summary of the various other biblical passages that bring together the three Persons of the Godhead. One Scripture is from the Gospels, another is from the apostle Paul and a third is from the apostle Peter. The words in each passage referring to each of the three Persons are italicized to emphasize their Trinitarian implication:
- All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit [Matthew 28:19].
- May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all [2 Corinthians 13:14].
- To God’s elect...who have been chosen according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and sprinkling by his blood [1 Peter 1:1-2].
Here are three passages in Scripture, one on the lips of Jesus, and the other two from leading apostles, each bringing together the three Persons of the Godhead in an unmistakable way. But these are only a sampling of other similar passages. Among others are the following: Romans 14:17-18; 15:16;1 Corinthians 2:2-5; 6:11; 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21-22; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 2:18-22; 3:14-19; Ephesians 4:4-6; Colossians 1:6-8; 1Thessalonians 1:3-5; 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14; Titus 3:4-6. The reader is encouraged to read each of these passages and note how God (Father), Son (Jesus Christ) and the Holy Spirit are brought together as instruments of our salvation.
Such passages show that the New Testament faith is implicitly Trinitarian. It’s true that none of these passages say directly that “God is a Trinity. . .” or “This is the Trinitarian doctrine. . .” But they don’t need to. As mentioned above, the books of the New Testament are not formal, point-by-point treatises of doctrine. Nonetheless, these and other Scriptures speak easily and without any self-consciousness of God (Father), Son (Jesus) and Holy Spirit working together as one. The writers show no feeling of strangeness in joining these divine Persons together as a unity in their salvific work. Systematic theologian Alister E. McGrath makes this point in his book Christian Theology:
The foundations of the doctrine of the Trinity are to be found in the pervasive pattern of divine activity to which the New Testament bears witness…. There is the closest of connections between the Father, Son, and Spirit in the New Testament writings. Time after time, New Testament passages link together these three elements as part of a greater whole. The totality of God’s saving presence and power can only, it would seem, be expressed by involving all three elements...[page 248].
Such New Testament Scriptures answer the charge that the Trinity doctrine was only developed well into the church age and that it reflects “pagan” ideas, and not biblical ones. If we look at Scripture with an open mind regarding what it says about the being we call God, it’s clear that he is shown to be Triune in nature. The Bible reveals that the Father is God, Jesus the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, and yet the Bible also insists that this is only one God. These biblical teachings led the early church to formulate the doctrine of the Trinity.
We can confidently say that the Trinity, as a truth regarding God’s essential being, has always been a reality. Perhaps it was not completely clear in antiquity, including even in the Old Testament. But the Incarnation of the Son of God and the coming of the Holy Spirit revealed that God was Triune. This revelation was made in concrete fact, in that the Son and the Holy Spirit broke into our world at definite points in history. The fact of the Triune revelation of God in historical time was only later described in the word of God we call the New Testament.
James R. White, a Christian apologist, says in his book The Forgotten Trinity: “The Trinity is a doctrine not revealed merely in words but instead in the very action of the Triune God in redemption itself! We know who God is by what He has done in bringing us to himself!” (page 167).