Doctrine(s) of the Trinity: Three Divine Persons

So, it’s been a while, but this week we are finally returning to the doctrine of the Trinity. You will recall, I’m sure, that the Trinity isn’t just one doctrine. It’s actually three doctrines: (1) absolute monotheism, (2) three divine persons, and (3) the equality of the divine persons. Last time, we discussed monotheism. If you need to refresh your memory, the article can be found here. Now, I should apologize, I said at the end of that article that we’d address the next doctrine “next week,” and that was now many weeks ago. Please forgive my tardiness, but better late than never, right? So let’s move on to the next doctrine of the Trinity: the three divine persons.


Where is this doctrine in the Old Testament?


Before we begin talking about the biblical evidence for there being three divine persons, I need to say a word about the fact that…well…all the Scriptural evidence will be taken from the New Testament. Many will point to this and use it as evidence that, “The doctrine of the Trinity is nowhere to be found in the Old Testament,” and therefore cast doubt on the truthfulness of the doctrine. Yet this objection misunderstands the nature of progressive revelation. The whole counsel of God wasn’t given in one moment. Take the doctrine of salvation, for instance. All Adam and Eve knew was that one day “the seed of the woman” would crush the head of the serpent. Over time the picture got clearer. The coming Savior would be born to the family of Abraham. He would, specifically, be born from the tribe of Judah. He would, even more specifically, be born in the family of David. He would be born in Bethlehem, to a virgin. He would suffer on behalf of his people, and by his wounds they would be healed. Do you see how the picture starts looking more and more like Jesus the further into Scripture you go?


Someone could easily say, “Well this whole ‘virgin birth’ doctrine is nowhere to be found in Genesis. Why should we believe it? It’s clearly a later addition.” And, yes, of course it’s a later addition, but that doesn’t mean it’s not true because God is the one who “added” it. Was it true in Genesis 3 that Christ would be born of a virgin? Yes. Had that been revealed yet? No. In the same way, was it true in the Old Testament that, within the one being that is God there exist three co-equal and co-eternal persons, namely the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit? Yes. Had that been revealed yet? No.


So, the reason why the Trinity is not found in the Old Testament is found in the fact that it wasn’t revealed until just before the New Testament was written. The Trinity was revealed in the incarnation of the Son and in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[1] This is simply another example of progressive revelation. Now, I will grant that this particular example is one where a lot of progress took place. However, because we still hold to the teaching of the Old Testament regarding monotheism, God’s attributes, God’s covenant faithfulness, etc., we can say with confidence that we are not contradicting what came before. We are simply believing all of what God has revealed in his Word.


Where do we see three divine persons in Scripture?


Or better yet, why do Christians contend that there are three divine persons? What makes us think that the Son and the Spirit (as well as the Father) are God? Well, there are two reasons. First, all three are called God. Second, all three do what only God can do. So, if a person is called God, and that person does what only God can do, we, therefore, contend that that person is God. Seems simple enough, but now we have to demonstrate it.


First, the Father. In Matthew 3:17, the Father speaks from heaven. He also does this in John 12:28. In Matthew 11:25, Jesus calls the Father, “Lord of heaven and earth.” In John 14:2, Jesus calls heaven “my Father’s house.” When Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane, to whom is he speaking? In Matthew 26:39, we read that he prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” Paul speaks often of, “The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.”[2] So does Peter.[3] Why will every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord? Paul says it will be “to the glory of God the Father.”[4] And if that’s not enough, simply note how many times the words “God the Father” appear in the New Testament.[5] I think it’s safe to say that the New Testament teaches that the Father is God.


Second, the Son. Of course, the Son is called God. John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In Romans 9:5, Jesus is called “God over all.” In Colossians 1:15, he’s called “the image of the invisible God.” Colossians 2:9 tells us, “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” In Revelation 1:17 Christ calls himself, “the first and the last,” which sounds and awful lot like passages we covered in the last article as proof that the Bible teaches monotheism (e.g. Isaiah 43:10). He’s also called “the Lord of the Sabbath,” which is a title reserved for God alone. Yet we also see the Son doing what only God can do. John 1:3 tells us that the Son created all things. So does Colossians 1:16, and verse 17 tells us that he hold all things together. In the gospels, Jesus forgives sins![6] He also raises the dead.[7] He accepts worship, and rather than rebuking the worshippers he commends them.[8] If he wasn’t God, he would be morally required to forbid someone from worshipping him,[9] but we know that Scripture teaches that Jesus never sinned.[10] We must conclude, therefore, that Scripture teaches that Jesus (the Son) is God.


Now what about the Holy Spirit? Well, first, we must establish that he is a person. The Holy Spirit isn’t like “the force” in Star Wars. He is a person just like the Father and the Son. Just look at how many times he refers to himself in a personal way in Scripture. In Acts 13:2, we read, “While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’” Acts 10:19-20, “And while Peter was pondering the vision, the Spirit said to him, ‘Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down and accompany them without hesitation, for I have sent them.’” Christ also refers to the Spirit in a personal way. In John 16:13-14 he says, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you.”[11] He is called the Spirit of God.[12] And when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, what did Peter say? “Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God…How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord?” The Spirit gives life.[13] Blasphemy against him will not be forgiven.[14] Scripture teaches that the Holy Spirit is God.


Next week (and this time I really do mean next week) we’ll discuss the final piece of the puzzle. First, we’ll wrap up this discussion of three divine persons by demonstrating that the persons are distinct from one another. Second, we’ll move on to the final doctrine within the doctrine of the Trinity: the equality of the three divine persons.




[1] “The answer to that question [i.e. ‘When was the doctrine of the Trinity revealed?’] is simply the Incarnation and the coming of the Holy Spirit. That is, the Trinity is revealed by the Son coming in the flesh and the Spirit descending upon the church. Therefore, the Trinity is revealed not in the Old Testament, or even in the New Testament, but rather in between the testaments, in the ministry of Christ and the founding of the church. These events are recorded for us in the New Testament, but they took place before a word of the New Testament was written.” James R. White, The Forgotten Trinity: Recovering the Heart of Christian Belief (Bloomington, Minnesota: Bethany House, 1998), 166.

[2] Romans 15:6, 2 Corinthians 1:3, Ephesians 1:3, 17

[3] 1 Peter 1:3

[4] Philippians 2:11

[5] John 6:27, 1 Corinthians 15:24, Galatians 1:1, Ephesians 5:20, 6:23, Philippians 2:11, Colossians 3:17, 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 1 Timothy 1:2, 2 Timothy 1:2, Titus 1:4, James 1:27, 1 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 1:17, 2 John 3, Jude 1

[6] Matthew 9:6, Mark 2:10, Luke 5:24

[7] Matthew 9:18-26, Mark 5:21-43, Luke 7:11-17, 8:40-56, John 11

[8] Matthew 28:17, John 20:24-29

[9] Revelation 22:8-9

[10] Hebrews 4:15

[11] References taken from White, The Forgotten Trinity, 141.

[12] Matthew 3:16, 12:28, Romans 8:9, 14, 15:19, 1 Corinthians 2:11, 2:14, 6:11, 7:40, 12:3, Ephesians 4:30, Philippians 3:3, 1 John 4:2

[13] John 6:63, Romans 8:11

[14] Matthew 12:31-32, Mark 3:28-29, Luke 12:10