EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - THE TRINITY

THE BIBLE
Can we trust a book written 2000 years ago?

EYEWITNESS
Did the writers of the New Testament get their picture of Jesus right?

GOD - MAN
Is Jesus really God?

RESURRECTION
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

RELIGIONS
With so many religions, why Christianity?

SUFFERING
If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?

TRINITY
Understanding the Trinity.

SCIENCE
The complementary nature of Science & Christianity.

FORGIVENESS
What it is and why it matters?

GUIDANCE
How does God guide?

REPENTANCE
What it is and why you can't get to heaven without it.

BORN AGAIN
What does it mean to be converted and born again?

SAVING FAITH
The kind of faith that will get you to heaven

ASSURANCE
Can I know for sure that I am going to heaven?

TRUTH
What is truth and does it matter?

MORALITY
Does it matter how we live? A Christian view of morality.

THE CHURCH
God's vision for his family, the Church. A call to the churches of the new millennium.

PURPOSE
How can I find a great purpose for living?

IDENTITY
Who am I; Finding my true identity as a human being and as a child of God.

SELF-ESTEEM
How can I feel good about my self? The Christian basis for proper sel-esteem.

LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.

THE CROSS
Why did Jesus Die? What the Bible says about the Cross.

Grace
The importance of grace in the New Testament.

 

The Holy Spirit is a distinct person from God the Father

A good beginning point here is to note the number of passages in the New Testament that mention all three persons of the Trinity together, often within the space of either one or two verses. The following is a list of such passages. It is not an exhaustive list as there are other passages where two of the persons are mentioned, but the presence of the third can be assumed by implication. Having listed these passages, I will look at several which are especially significant.

Matthew 3:16,17 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 Hebrew 2:3,4
Matthew 28:19 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 Hebrew 3:6,7
Luke 1:35 2 Corinthians 1:21,22 Hebrews 6:4-6
Luke 1:67-69 2 Corinthians 3:3, 4 Hebrew 9:14
John 14:16,17 2 Corinthians 5:5-10 Hebrews 10:12-15
John 14:26 2 Corinthians 13:14 Hebrews 10:29-31
John 15:26 Galatians 3:1-5 1 Peter 1:2
John 16:13-15 Galatians 3:11-14 1 Peter 3:18
John 20:21,22 Galatians 4:4-6 1 Peter 4:14-17
Acts 2:33 Ephesians 1:3-14 2 Peter 1:21-2:1
Acts 2:38,39 Ephesians 2:18 1 John 3:21-24
Acts 7:55 Ephesians 2:22 1 John 4:1,2
Acts 10:38 Ephesians 3:4-7 1 John 4:13,14
Acts 10:46-48 Ephesians 3:14-19 1 John 5:6-9
Acts 11:16,17 Ephesians 4:2-6 Jude 20,21
Romans 5:5,6 Ephesians 5:18-20 Revelation 1:4,5
Romans 8:3,4 Colossians 1:7-10 Revelation 1:9,10
Romans 8:8-11 1 Thessalonians 1:5-10 Revelation 2:7
Romans 8:16,17 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Revelation 2:26-29
Romans 14:17,18 1 Thessalonians 5:18,19 Revelation 3:5,6
Romans 15:16 2 Thessalonians 2:13,14 Revelation 3:12,13
Romans 15:17-19 1 Timothy 3:15,16 1 Revelation 3:21,22
Romans 15:30 Timothy 4:1-6 Revelation 5:6,7
1 Corinthians 2:8-10 2 Timothy 1:8-14 Revelation 14:12,13
1 Corinthians 2:12-16 Titus 3:4-8 Revelation 22:16-18

The very fact that so many passages can refer to each of the three persons of the Trinity, with each having a distinctive role in our salvation, is the strongest possible evidence that the Holy Spirit is distinct from God the Father, just as Jesus is distinct from God the Father.

The following passages are particularly significant:

At the baptism of Jesus we read, "...he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, 'This is my Son, whom I love...'"(Matthew 3:16:17). You will note that the Spirit descends on Jesus to empower him for his public ministry, while God the Father speaks from heaven.

Jesus' final commands to his disciples, recorded in Matthew's Gospel, includes the command to baptise converts, "in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit" (Matthew 28:19). Baptism signifies our initiation into the divine family. I will explore some of the implications of this further in Part 2. Baptising "into the name" (literal translation) is a Hebrew form of expression. Note that it includes under a singular name not only the Father, but the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"In certain ways we are weak, but the Spirit is here to help us. For example, when we don't know what to pray for, the Spirit prays for us in ways that cannot be put into words. All our thoughts are known to God. He can understand what is in the mind of the Spirit, as the Spirit prays for God's people. We know that God is always at work for the good of everyone who loves him" (Romans 8:26-28). This passage expresses the remarkable truth that when our praying is prompted by the Holy Spirit we are caught up in the free and open communication that takes place between two members of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit and God the Father. Both of these desire our good. One writer, Martin Smith, puts it this way:

Our prayer is not making conversation with God. It is joining the conversation that is already going on in God. It is being invited to participate in the relationships of intimacy between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. There is an eternal dance already in full swing, and we are caught up in to it. Prayer is allowing ourselves to join the dance and experience the movements, the constant interplay of the Persons of the Trinity.

You will note in the above passage that God knows the mind of the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 2:11 the Spirit similarly knows the thoughts of God the Father. This is distinction, not identification. God the Father does not pray to himself. Nevertheless, the Spirit and God the Father act in harmony.

"Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are varieties of ministries, and the same Lord. And there are varieties of effects, but the same God who works all things in all persons" (1 Corinthians 12:4-6). In these verses, and those following, Paul is pointing out to the Corinthian believers the wide range of gifts and ministries that are given to individuals in the Christian fellowship, even though they are one united body. His appeal to unity is based on the fact that these gifts and ministries all have their source in members of the divine Trinity. His appeal for the need for variety is based on the fact that variety exists even within the Godhead itself. Diversity within unity belongs to the character of God. The Trinity is foundational to Paul's whole argument.

C. K. Barrett notes of this passage in his Harper's New Testament Commentary on 1 Corinthians, "The Trinitarian formula is the more impressive because it seems to be artless and unconscious." Gordon Fee, one of the world's leading textual critics, in his impressive volume God's Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul, adds, "...passages like this are the 'stuff' from which later theological constructs are correctly derived."

"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). Here is one of the clearest references to the Spirit as one of the three Persons of the Godhead, each of whom is designated by that special ministry that belongs to him. That Paul can refer to the activity of the three divine Persons together in one prayer, with God the Father standing in second place, is as strong evidence as one could get that Paul was truly Trinitarian in his thinking. Gordon Fee comments:

That Paul would include the Holy Spirit as an equal member of this triadic formula, and that he would pray to the Spirit in their behalf, says as much about his understanding of the Spirit both as person and as deity as any direct statement of this kind ever could...It is for the later church to try to understand the ontological implications, how God is three in one; its reason for doing so at all comes about precisely because the church is forced to come to terms with Paul's understanding of God's character and activity in our behalf expressed in this kind of prayer.

"Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit - just as you were called to one hope when you were called - one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all" (Ephesians 4:2-6). Paul wants the believers in Ephesus to develop those personal qualities that will enable them to demonstrate to the outside world a true unity of love. The fact that they are one body, and should be seen to be so, he argues, is based on the fact that there is, "one Spirit...one Lord...one God and Father of all."

This passage puts into credal form the fact that God is experienced as a triune reality. It is the Spirit coming into our lives who builds us into one body or fellowship; it is Jesus, who died for us, in whom we put our faith for forgiveness and acceptance; and it is God the Father over all to whom we look for guidance and provision.

"How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God" (Hebrews 9:14). It is the eternal Spirit, who empowered Jesus at his baptism for his public ministry, who enabled him to offer himself to God as a perfect sacrifice for our sins on the cross. Here again, the Spirit is clearly distinct from God the Father. Each had their part to play in our salvation.

"Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth" (Revelation 1:4). John begins this remarkable letter with a prayer that his readers may receive grace and peace from each of the Persons of the divine Trinity. The Holy Spirit is presented here as the seven-branched candlestick that stood before the Most Holy Place in the temple of the Old Testament. This is in line with the symbolism that pervades the book of Revelation, most of which is taken from Old Testament temple worship. "Seven" in Revelation is the number of perfection, completion or fulfilment. Jesus is probably mentioned last in this passage as most of the rest of the book is about him. There could hardly be a clearer statement of the divinity of, and distinction between, the three Persons of the Trinity.

It should be becoming increasingly clear that Trinitarian language and ideas keep popping up constantly through the New Testament. The writers don't use the word "Trinity". Nor do they set out to explain the Trinity. That was left to later generations, however successful, or otherwise. (Who can explain God?) It was just that their experience of Jesus and all he had taught, and all they had experienced since the Holy Spirit had been given to God's people on the Day of Pentecost, clearly led in this direction.

J. Murray, in his Commentary on Romans in the New International Commentary, when speaking of Paul's description of the work of the three Persons of the Trinity in Romans 15:17-19, says:

It is not a case of artificially weaving these persons into his presentation; it is rather that his consciousness is so formed by and to faith in the triune God that he cannot but express himself in these terms.

This could be said of other writers of the New Testament.

 

 

Foreward

Understanding the Trinity

PART 1: What the Bible says about the triune God

Jesus is God

The Holy Spirit is God

The Holy Spirit is personal

The Holy Spirit is a distinct person from God the Father

Points for clarification

PART 2: Does it make sense?

Understanding only grows with personal experience

A final challenge

 



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