Winter 2011

Think Bigger

There’s not a ‘Trinity verse’ — and that’s a good thing

By Fred Sanders

The Trinity is a biblical doctrine, but let’s admit it: There’s something annoying about how hard it is to put your finger on a verse that states the whole doctrine.

The Bible presents the elements of the doctrine in numerous passages, of course: that there is only one God; that the Father is God; that the Son is God; and that the Spirit is God. We can also tell easily enough that the Father, Son and Spirit are really distinct from one another, and are not just three names for one person. If you hold all those clear teachings of Scripture in your mind at one time and think through them together, the doctrine of the Trinity is inevitable. Trinitarianism is a biblical doctrine and all the ingredients are given to us there: Just add thought and you have the classic doctrine.

Like most evangelicals, though, I would prefer to have a doctrine be stated clearly and concisely in one place. I like my doctrines verse-sized. I sometimes wish there were one verse that said, “God is one being in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.” The doctrine of the Trinity, though, is simply not verse-sized. Sometimes that feels like a disadvantage, but in fact it’s an advantage. The doctrine of the Trinity is a massive, comprehensive, full-Bible doctrine that serves to expand our minds as readers of Scripture. In Scripture, God is leading his people to understand who he is as Father, Son and Spirit.

For example, set aside for a moment the desire to fit the doctrine into one verse. Look instead at how it shows up in a slightly larger (three verses) passage, Galatians 4:4-6: “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son … to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’” Paul is describing God’s greatest acts in the history of salvation, and those acts are specifically Trinitarian: The Father sends the Son and the Spirit to save.

Or think even bigger: In a crucial passage of Romans, Paul summarizes his message in five verses, and there is a necessarily Trinitarian cadence to his summary: “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. … We rejoice … because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Rom. 5:1–5).

Or try to take in 12 verses at once: Ephesians 1:3-14 is one gigantic sentence (in Greek) that surveys all of God’s plans and intentions from eternity past, through our present salvation, and on to final redemption. Three times it points us to the kind intention of God’s will, and three times it points us to the praise of his glory. The fundamental movement of the passage, though, is from the Father’s choosing and predestining us in love, through the beloved Son’s death for our forgiveness, to the Holy Spirit’s work sealing us for redemption.

Once you learn to see the Trinity shaping these larger stretches of Scripture, you’re ready to notice how entire books of the Bible are structured by the same Trinitarian logic. In Galatians, for example, Paul proves his gospel of faith against salvation by works in a three-part argument: The Galatians received the Spirit by faith, God promised Abraham that he would justify the Gentiles by faith, and Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law. The great arc of Romans runs from the Father’s judgment through the Son’s propitiation to the Spirit’s deliverance.

If you want to catch a glimpse of the Trinity as the big story behind the Bible, the best thing to do is to read the Gospel of John fast, in one sitting. Your dominant impression during the first half will be that the Father and the Son love each other, and in the second half the Holy Spirit will burst into your attention as the fulfillment of the revelation.

There are a handful of verses where the three persons are named in one place, such as Matthew 28:19 and 2 Corinthians 13:14. These classic passages have the advantage of being comfortably verse-sized. But when we move on from the partial glimpses of the Trinity we can get from single verses, we are led on to larger stretches of argument, wider vistas of insight, and a more inclusive expanse of God’s self-revelation through Scripture. And that prepares our minds for the biggest Christian thought of all: The whole Bible is one complete book that reveals the Trinity. That fact is what the ancient church fathers meant when they summarized the Christian faith in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in God the Father … and in his only Son, our Lord Jesus Christ … and in the Holy Spirit.”

The Trinity is a biblical doctrine, therefore, in a very special sense: not in any one verse, but as the key to the entire book.

Fred Sanders is an associate professor of theology in Biola’s Torrey Honors Institute; Sanders’ latest book, The Deep Things of God: How the Trinity Changes Everything, was published in August 2010.


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  • Dale March 10, 2011 at 1:34 PM

    Comment and criticism from a Biola alum (me - B.A. Philosophy, 1992) here:

  • Bevan Stephanus March 30, 2011 at 10:21 PM

    If the doctrine was said in one plain verse, we probably wouldn't bother to read the entire Bible in search of more evidence to back up the doctrine itself.

  • Dave November 28, 2011 at 9:19 PM

    The trinity was made up by the Catholic church in the century after Jesus was transfigured. Ask any Jew ( yes they missed the boat on Jesus being the savior, but they understood who God was). If you was to understand scripture it starts with understanding God.

  • Igor Ledochowski March 13, 2012 at 9:43 AM

    Do not be fooled by the usual philosophical arguements. It lacks understanding and real depth to be of any real value to the proletariat.

  • Pajamaman September 12, 2012 at 2:38 AM

    I believe that Proverbs reveals the nature of the Trinity throughout its 31 chapters. It depicts a King Father explaining to His Son how we would like for him to operate His Kingdom's expansion unto the earth as a colony; in which Jesus reclaimed dominion over and at one point Adam had the same territorial rights. Ok, that covers God the Father and God the Son!

    This is where I get into huge theological debates and prepare myself for stoning! I think the Holy Spirit is a woman and she represents the gentleness and grace of God. God is Creation and the things that are done on earth are as they are in Heaven, therefore God the Queen is like Adam and Eve, and can conceive...Jesus that is!

    God sent Adam as a regent to His Kingdom because He has too much glory to even subject Himself to the prince formerly known as Lucifer; but God's Holy Spirit, His Queen is too attached to see her children go off on their own. She uses Her graceful spirit to invisbily ease into the womb of her children and instills the wisdom of God. She does this throughout the Bible; the variation being that in the OT she leaves like a whirlwind; and in the NT, She remains in the hearts of those that believe in their redemption and fills them with the fruits of Her Spirit in God. Don't blasphemy the Holy Spirit, there's no existence without Her; Mother of His Nature battles Mother Nature of the earth on our behalf as Jesus did with Satan.

  • Stephan September 2, 2013 at 8:40 AM

    'And that prepares our minds for the biggest Christian thought of all: The whole Bible is one complete book that reveals the Trinity.'
    The whole Bible? At least we struggle to reveal Trinity from the New Testament, yes.
    But why would it be inevitable to superimpose any trinitary interpretation on the Old Testament? There is not a single reason to raid and take possession of other religions' holy scriptures, other than to declass these very religions for staying with their 'incomplete' and therefore 'wrong' interpretations.

  • Pedarattaiah Gadde October 8, 2014 at 9:17 PM

    If Lord Jesus Christ is the true witness to the Truth,and the language of the Holy Scriptures is sufficient for the Holy Spirit to lead us and guide us to the Father. then why to borrow the language of the Church councils which are constituted by sinful, unmerciful bishops who keep on adding human metaphysical terminology to interpret the Holy Scriptures , inventing hypothetical glasses to look at God and His revelation. My question is it instructed in Scriptures to lean on human philosophy to control God's revealed truth and people by man -invented dogmas and traditions? word of God says "no". LET SCRIPTURES INTERPRET SCRIPTURES. I say church councils are sinful because they took bible in one hand and sword on the other hand. Instead of saving people they murdered people, instead of turning people to God the creator, they forced, killed and judged thousands of people that contradicted their metaphysical and fancy ideas. They have forsaken mercy, love,humility and justice. Christ is not there in their language and conduct. I wonder why the popular Christianity subscribes to the language of the Church councils? It is true what Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God told in Mark 7:6-7. Scriptures warn us in Colossians 2:8.

  • gilcrist January 26, 2015 at 10:43 PM

    The word for the trinity does not exist in any Bible. The concept of the trinity, which is one god in three persons or three persons in one god, is not even mentioned in the bible. Sure, Jesus is called God. But a lot of other humans were called God also ( Moses, Paul, Judges ). The holy Spirit is God, of course. But is the holy spirit a different person from God the Father ? Is your spirit a different person from you the human? NO it is not.
    Paul himself says that even an angel comes preaching a different dogma that what they preached, that we should reject it? Nobody in any body preached the trinity. Nobody preached the Spirit of God is a different person from God the Father. How can God the Father be omnipresent without his spirit going around everywhere? Nobody preached that there are three persons who are God beings?
    Didn't Luke write his version of the events after the ascension of Christ so that we will be certain of what happened? How can you believe the trinity people when their interpretation of multiple scattered verses is the correct interpretation when nobody in the Bible thought that way or wrote that interpretation?
    Just imagine a preacher telling you that his message on who actually is God is based on the Bible when his Bible doesn't say that directly. These trinity people deify Jesus when Jesus himself says that God the Father is the only true God.
    Never mind.

  • John January 28, 2015 at 4:46 AM

    I John 5:7 in a KJV or NKJV Bible. There is your Trinity in one verse. I fits the context, has historical quotations to prove its early authenticity.

  • gilchrist May 28, 2015 at 12:35 PM

    For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one... Does that statement mean that the three persons are one being or that the three persons have one purpose or unified in their objective? The bible also states that the male and female will become one, once they get married ( poorly paraphrased ). Does that mean that the male and female become one being? The trinity states that there are three persons in one God. God is a three-person being. This can only mean that God the Father is not God, Jesus is not God or the Holy spirit is not God for precisely the reason given by the trinity lovers: God the Father is not a three person being. Jesus is not a three person being. The Holy Spirit is not a three person being. Only God the Trinity is a three person being. Now, for you trinitarians who think that it is impossible for billions of you to be so wrong about the nature of God, let me remind you of the prophet Elijah ( I think ) who didn't worship Baal or Balaal. "Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel--all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed him." Imagine 7 thousand from the whole Israel.
    Never mind.

  • Brian Sumner June 2, 2015 at 6:10 PM

    Genesis 1:1 "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth."

    Colossians 1:16 "all things were created through him and for him."

    "The Spirit of God has made me," Job 33:4

    Also, of importance to see their interaction.

    1 Cor 12:4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same SPIRIT; and there are varieties of service, but the same LORD; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same GOD who empowers them all in everyone.

  • gilchrist November 14, 2015 at 8:29 AM

    So now, explicit statements of our Bible Lords are not important anymore but their interactions and actions are.
    If you think Jesus is another divine person, then at least listen to what he says and not make him a liar. He said the Father is the only true God. There is not denying the antecedent fallacy there. Was Jesus not divine anymore when he was in human form ( according to your creeds )? Are we also divine because Jesus said we are with them as Jesus is one with the Father? Besides Jesus did not say the Spirit is one with them, right?
    If the Spirit of the Father is a separate person from the Father, then the Spirit of Jesus must be a separate person from Jesus? The Spirit of God cannot be both he Spirit of Jesus and the Spirit of the Father because that is a contradiction the trines will clearly recognize: two spirits are one spirit.
    Where in the Bible is God described or seen as a three-person God? The elders with Moses has seen and described what must be a one-person God. What does your three-person God look like?
    Why does Jesus sit on his own throne to the right of the throne of God is he is divine also? Does Jesus the human sit on the throne of Jesus but Jesus as God the Son sits on the throne of God?
    You trinitarians cannot explain why Jesus can be called God and accepted being called God without him being divine using the statements of Jesus in the Bible. So your ancestors created the creeds because the people were tired of them saying God is a mystery as their answer.
    Wake up. Those roman christians are long dead. They cannot force us to accept their unbiblical interpretation of the Bible. We have our own Bibles that we can read. God will enlighten us if that is your destiny.
    How can the trines say they see a three-person God that they cannot describe?
    In Luke 21:15 : For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

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