in the New Testament by Felix Just, S.J., Ph.D.
Although the word "Trinity" does not occur in the Bible, the theological concept of the One God consisting of Three Divine Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) is founded upon various New Testament texts. Christians have traditionally also seen the Trinity foreshadowed or alluded to in certain Old Testament texts.
In its generic meaning, "god" refers to any "divine" being, at the highest levels of "spiritual" existence, beyond the ordinary earthly physical world.
Related words: godly, divine, divinity
Generic words for "God" in ancient biblical languages:
Hebrew El or Elohim; Greek Theos; Latin Deus
Particular names and titles given to God in the Bible:
Old Testament: YHWH (the sacred name or tetragrammaton), El-Shaddai, El-Elyon, Adonai (Lord), etc.
New Testament: Father, Lord, Master, Creator, the Holy One, the Blessed One, etc.
Theology (literally the "Study of God") is an academic field that attempts to describe or understand who and what God is, what God does, how God is related to the world and the human race, and other aspects of the divine or spiritual realms.
Theism: any system of theology that believes in God as a force or being in or related to the universe.
Deism: a system of theology that believes that God created the universe, but is no longer actively involved in the world; the creator set things in motion, but the universe is like a top, now continuing to spin on its own.
Pantheism: a system of theology that believes that divinity is everywhere, that the absolute or spiritual reality exists within all of creation, but not in a "divine being" somehow above or separate from the created universe.
Polytheism: a system of theology that believes in multiple gods, several divine beings, possibly inter-related (such as the families of gods on Mount Olympus in Greco-Roman mythology).
Henotheism: a system of theology that believes that multiple gods exist, but that one's allegiance and worship is due only to one God; thus it is polytheistic in belief, but monotheistic in practice.
Monotheism: a system of theology that believes that only One God truly exists, and what other people may call "gods" are really no more than spirits (angels or demons) or idols (human creations or wood, stone, or other materials).
The Christian belief that God is "Three-in-One"; that the One God (with one divine nature/being/substance) consists of three divine "Persons" (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit)
Constituent concepts: Nature; Being; Substance; Person (for definitions, see a good theological dictionary)
Related words: Triune, Trinitarian, Trinitarianism, Trinitarian Monotheism
Biblical Background:Basis in New Testament Texts:
Connections between Father, Son, and Spirit:
Matthew 28:19 (conclusion of the Gospel) - "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..."
Luke 3:21-22 (at the baptism of Jesus) - "Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, / and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, "You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased." (parallels in Mark 1:10-11; Matt 3:16-17; John 1:32)
John 14—16 (Last Supper Discourse) - The Holy Spirit, as the "Spirit of Truth" and the "Paraclete," is intimately related to the Father and the Son (see esp. 14:16-17; 14:26; 15:26; 16:7, 13).
Galatians 4:4-7 - "But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God."
Romans 8:14-17 - "For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, "Abba! Father!" it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ--if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him."
2 Cor 13:14 (concluding prayer of the letter) - "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with all of you."
1 John 4:2, 9, 13-15 - "By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God... God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him... By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. / And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. / God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God."
1 Peter 1:2-3a - Peter writes to "who have been chosen and destined by God the Father and sanctified by the Spirit to be obedient to Jesus Christ and to be sprinkled with his blood: May grace and peace be yours in abundance. Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!"
1 John 5:5-6 - "Who is it that conquers the world but the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? This is the one who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ, not with the water only but with the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one that testifies, for the Spirit is the truth."
Connections between Father and Son, showing the divinity of Jesus:
Matt 11:27 - "All things have been handed over to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him." (parallel Luke 10:22)
John 1:1-18 - Jesus Christ as the divine word/logos, the light and life of the world, the "only-begotten Son" of the Father
John 5:17-19 - "But Jesus answered them, 'My Father is still working, and I also am working.' / For this reason the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because he was not only breaking the sabbath, but was also calling God his own Father, thereby making himself equal to God. / Jesus said to them, 'Very truly, I tell you, the Son can do nothing on his own, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.' "
John 10:30, 38 - "The Father and I are one." / "...the Father is in me and I am in the Father."
John 14:8-11a - "Philip said to him, 'Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.' / Jesus said to him, 'Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? / Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works. / Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me...' "
John 17:1b-5 - "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, / since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. / And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. / I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. / So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed."
Hebrews 1:1-5 - Jesus is "the reflection of God's glory and the exact imprint of God's very being" (v. 3); "For to which of the angels did God ever say, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you'? (citing Psalm 2:7; repeated in Heb 5:5) Or again, 'I will be his Father, and he will be my Son'?" (citing 2 Sam 7:14)
1 John 1:3b - "...truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ."
1 John 2:22-24 - "the Son and the Father" are mentioned together four times in these short verses.
Connections between the Father and the Holy Spirit:
Luke 11:13 - " If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!"
John 4:23-24 - " But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
Acts 2:1-36 - The Holy Spirit of God is poured out on the disciples at the feast of Pentecost (see esp. 2:33).
Allusions to the Trinity in Old Testament Texts:
Genesis 1:1-3 - This first creation account not only mentions "God" at the beginning and the "Spirit of God" hovering over the waters, but God creates by speaking words, such as "Let there be light!"); Christians later identify the personified "Word of God" with Jesus Christ.
Genesis 1:26-27 - When creating humans, God speaks in the plural: "Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness"
Genesis 3:22a - When expelling Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden, God also speaks in the plural: "Then the LORD God said, 'See, the man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil...' "
Genesis 11:7 - Seeing the tower of Babel, God again speaks in the plural: "Come, let us go down, and confuse their language there, so that they will not understand one another's speech."
Genesis 18:1-22 - God appears to Abraham as three separate beings: "The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. / He looked up and saw three men standing near him..."
Isaiah 6:8 - When the prophet sees God on a throne, God again speaks in the plural: "Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, 'Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?' And I said, 'Here am I; send me!' "
The Old Testament often also speaks of Father, Son, and Spirit separately:
God as Father: Deuteronomy 32:6; Psalm 89:26; Isaiah 9:6; 63:16; 64:8; Jeremiah 3:4; 3:19
God's Son: Psalm 2:7; 2:12; Proverbs 30:4; Daniel 7:13-14
How can God be both one being and three persons? How can Christians both claim to be monotheists and also believe in God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Only if one understands that there are different types of "unity" or "oneness"! One must distinguish between "oneness as uniqueness, separateness, aloneness" in contrast to "oneness as unity within diversity."
Examples from common life:
One as absolute uniqueness: every person has exactly one birthday (one date on which we were born)
One as unity of diversity: one human body is a unit consisting of many parts; one human family consists of several members
Examples from the Bible:
Hebrew yachid means "one and only" in the sense of "unique" or "alone" or "lonely":
A person’s “one and only son” (Genesis 22:2, 12, 16; Proverbs 4:3; Jeremiah 6:26; Amos 8:10; Zechariah 12:10)
A person’s “one and only child/daughter” (Judges 11:34)
People have “one and only life” (Psalm 22:20; 35:17)
People who are “alone/lonely” (Psalm 25:16; 68:6)
Hebrew echad means "one in unity" in the sense of "oneness with plurality" ():
A man and woman become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)
All people spoke one language with one set of words (Genesis 11:1)
All humans are one people, having one language (Genesis 11:6)
Two ethnic groups intermarry and become one people (Genesis 34:16)
All the people answer Moses with one voice (Exodus 24:3)
A branch has one cluster of grapes (Numbers 13:23)
One assembly numbers 42,360 people (Ezra 2:64)
God gives all his people oneness of heart and action (Jeremiah 32:38-39)
Most importantly, the great "Shema" prayer of the Hebrew Bible (Deut 6:4) uses the word echad, not yachid:
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD" (KJV & RSV - more accurate translation)
"Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone" (NRSV & NAB - less accurate translation)
Throughout Christian history, the Trinity has been depicted in many different ways:
as three identical human figures,
three different human figures,
two different human figures and a dove, or even two identical human figures and a dove.
Moreover, the Trinity has also been symbolized with various geometric, architectural, and natural forms.
"Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son"
Conceptions of the Trinity: East vs. West
Orthodox Christian East:
The Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father”
Catholic Christian West:
The Holy Spirit “proceeds from the Father
and the Son (filioque)”
Pertinent Texts from the Gospel according to John:
The FATHER gives/sends the Spirit (at the request of Jesus / in the name of Jesus):
14:16-17 – “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another PARACLETE, to be with you forever. / This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”
14:26 – “But the PARACLETE, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.”
JESUS sends the Spirit (from the Father):
15:26 – “When the PARACLETE comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.”
16:7 – “Nevertheless I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the PARACLETE will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”