Biblical Support for the Trinity?

In order to participate on Connect, each of you members was asked to provide your assent to our Statement of Faith. We believe that these are core tenants of Christianity, each of them indispensable in proper Christian theology. However, from time to time, it does become important to examine these beliefs for our own edification as well as to sharpen our apologetic in these beliefs.

One idea that is central to our Statement of Faith, which has been of much discussion lately, has been whether there is Biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity. This conversation is an attempt to provide a place to consider what the Bible says about God consisting of one essence but three persons.

A few questions to instigate the conversation:

  • Do we see the concept of the Trinity in the Old Testament? If so, where?
  • Do we see the concept of the Trinity in the New Testament? If so, where?
  • Isn’t the concept of the Trinity only a product of the Council of Constantinople?
  • How can we reconcile the idea of Jesus claiming “one-ness” with God while also seeming to refer to God as distinct from himself?

And if you haven’t thought too much about this, or want some good resources to start your thinking about it, here are a few resources from the RZIM team about this topic:

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There are many verses in the Bible that speak of the Trinity. Some are:
In Genesis 1:26 God said, “Let us make man in our image after our likeness”. Note the use of “our”. In Isaiah 6:8 God asks, “Who will go on our behalf?” (“our”) In John 3:11, Jesus says, “Very truly I tell you, we speak of what we know, and we testify to what we have seen, but still you people do not accept our testimony.” Note the use of “our” and “we”.
John 5:18 says that the religious leaders were trying to kill Jesus because he was “making himself equal with God”. Mark 2:7 says, “Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Matthew 3:16 records the baptism of Jesus by John in which you simultaneously see Jesus being baptized, God speaking from heaven, and the Spirit descending like a dove.
In Daniel 7:13-14 you see Jesus (the son of man) being led into the presence of God (the Ancient of Days) and Jesus being worshipped.
Isaiah 9:6 says the name of the Messiah will be “Mighty God”.
In Matthew 28:19 Jesus tells his disciples to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

It doesn’t matter that we accept the Trinity but can’t wrap our heads around it. We all accept and work with the concept of light - but do we understand light? Einstein said he couldn’t wrap his head around the concept of light. Einstein said, “All these fifty years of conscious brooding have brought me no nearer to the answer to the question, “What are light quanta?”. Nowadays every Tom, Dick and Harry thinks he knows it, but he is mistaken.”

I think it’s interesting that Jesus Himself gave an argument for the Trinity…

Mark 12:35-37 – And Jesus answered and said, while he taught in the temple, How say the scribes that Christ is the Son of David? For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, The LORD said to my Lord, Sit thou on my right hand, till I make thine enemies thy footstool. David therefore himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he then his son? And the common people heard him gladly.

This was in reference to Psalm 110:1, written by King David. Jesus rightly notes that David (by the leadership of the Spirit) called Jesus “Lord”. But note the wording. If David is writing this himself (as seems obvious, given the similarity to the rest of the psalms), then David is recognizing TWO Lords here: THE Lord, and MY Lord.

Who is David’s Lord in the psalm? That would be “my” Lord – Jesus. This begs the question: who is THE Lord? That can only be God the Father. Thus, in this passage in the Old Testament, all three persons of the Trinity are represented – THE Lord, MY Lord, and the Spirit by which David calls the coming Messiah Lord.

I frequently see interest and conversation around the councils, and some suspicion around the creeds in relation to what the Bible presents. I also appreciate some liturgy in my own personal worship, so I wanted to research it to understand it better for myself.

The early founders of the Nicene creed of 325 did not have as well defined a “trinitarian” doctrine as did the Constantinople creed of 381. The church was trying to clarify the nature of the Holy Spirit in relation to the Godhead at that time. For them, the Scriptures clearly spoke of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost separately in some way and with a degree of independence. The question remained in what relationship could these three persona be identified as. The aim of the Nicene creed was to provide a stance against Sabellianism or modalism, which would present the three names as mere identification of three separate modes or attributes of God. The Council of Nicaea was not supportive of this view. However, there was a real concern about going too far the other direction that the three would seem more like subordinate tri-theism, akin to the polytheism of other pagan beliefs. Similar to Tertullian much earlier before, the Nicene founders–along with Augustine–were attempting to wrestle with meaningful words to describe this hypostasis (or substance) that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit had in common while yet being separate by using terms analogous to things around them[1]. This did not get fully developed and like most analogies they had there weaknesses, but it was a start. There does not appear to be a question that the Council of Nicaea did identify with the belief that with the unity of God. But there was also the unique presence of separate Father, Son, and Holy Spirit that was too much for them to fully verbalize at that time.

By the time we get to get to the Council of Constantinople, the doctrine–set of teachings of beliefs–were more connected and complete, allowing for the addition of, “And in the Holy Ghost, who is Lord and Giver of life, who with the Father is worshipped and glorified, who spake by the prophets.” Prior to this, it’s false to think the early church was not teaching the Holy Spirit as a distinct. The question was how distinct, and if the Spirit should be worshipped as God. The question was centered around the consubstantiality (is the Spirit existent in the same substance as God) of the Spirit similar to the existing belief in the consubstantiality of the Father and the separate Son, who were yet also one. The baptismal formula (Mat. 28:19), apostolic benedictions (2 Cor. 13:14), and years of tradition helped temper the doctrine of the Holy Spirit as separate from and yet one with God through further councils of Alexandria (362), Rome (375) and Constantinople (381)[2].

Looking to the Bible for support, I have heard of concerns around the popular baptismal formulas used by the early church that create confusion around the authority of a single entity view, or a trinitarian view. The one given in Mat. 28:19 by Jesus marks His authority and gives a clear picture of the Trinity. It does make it difficult to argue that this was the only, technical method by which to baptize, since other passages appear to show the church baptizing “in the name of Jesus” (Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5). In the trinitarian sense, Jesus clearly spoke of God as His Father, of Himself as the Son, and the consequences of speaking against the Spirit. However, the singular “name” used here in the original Greek does not negate the threefold reference. If anything, it emphasizes the unity of the three, and there is not enough to prove that this statement was to be recited verbatim[3].

Though the Council of Nicaea was knowingly young in their development on the doctrine of the Holy Spirit, I fail to see how mentioning either this council or the later one in Constantinople implies that there was not an understanding of separate persons in the Godhead prior to this time period, or in the Bible itself. Additionally, passages given regarding oneness of God do not appear to me to discredit a trinitarian perspective, but that is rather tangential from the creedal discussion related to ancient church councils.


1. Philip Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity in History of the Christian Church, vol. 3 (1910; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1984), 677.
2. Ibid., 663 - 665.
3. Donald A. Hagner, Matthew 14-28 in Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 33B, eds. David A. Hubbard, et al. (Dallas: Word, 1995), 888.

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Just read this this morning. Very pertinent to the topic.

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