How can I explain the Holy Trinity?

How do I explain accurately the triune God. Questions like, Is he God or Son. How is He Father and Son at same time? Is He God or Jesus?

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Hello Sandra,
The Trinity is one of the essential doctrines of the Christian faith, yet it is one that cannot be fully comprehended, but it can be apprehended.
To comprehend something is to be able to completely understand it. If we were to be able to completely understand God it would put us on the same level as God, which we know is impossible.
But to apprehend something is to grasp what has been reveled about something. Which is within out abilities; to grasp what God has reveled about Himself.
God has reveled that there is 3 building blocks to the Trinity
The first block, is that there is only one God Deuteronomy 6:4, Isaiah 44:6
The second block is that there are 3 persons within the Godhead.
The Father is God, 1 Corinthians 8:6, Ephesians 4:4-6.
The Son is God, John 1:1-5, 14, John 20:28
The Spirit is God, Acts 5:3-4, 2 Corinthians 3:17
The third block is that the 3 persons are eternally distinct from one another.
There are more than 60 Bible passages that mention the 3 persons together and being distinct from one another, as an example Mathew 28:19, 2 Corinthians 13:14 As you reading through them you will see that they are always distinct individuals, they never change from one into another.

Many have errored in trying to understand the Trinity mathematically as 1+1+1=3, thus how can God be 1. But if they use a different operator in the equation to 1x1x1=1 then their understanding would be more accurate. They don’t add one to one another to make the Godhead, they are each God within the Godhead.

Further to this I think it is important to understand the definition of the word Son. Which is “completely equal to the Father”. He is not less than, or created in some way, He is completely equal to. In this sense He is both Jesus and God. You might want to reflect on Colossians 1:15-18, Philippians 2:2-8, and John 1:1-4, 14. You might to even want to commit them to memory, it will help in a deeper understanding of them.
May the Lord bless your understanding and study as you seek to know Him deeper.

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Thank you Don Baker for taking the time to respond to my question. I will definitely get into the Word with the scripture verses you shared and learn more about this. I was asked if we are to pray to God or pray to Jesus and what is the difference. I wasn’t sure how to answer. Thank you so much. (:

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Hi @sandra956, Thanks for your question :slightly_smiling_face:.

I like the building blocks explained by @don58.baker.
From these, we can understand that YHWH is one God made of three persons. Each person has their own mind and thoughts and roles. They each submit to each other in a community of love - this is why we’re told God IS love - 1 John 4:8.

If one person of the Trinity was missing, then God would not exist. One YHWH is made of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Old Testament and the New Testament are not in conflict.

You may find this website helpful in reading more on the nature of the Trinity. In it, they write:

There is, apparently, a subordination within the Trinity regarding order but not substance or essence. We can see that the Father is first, the Son is second, and the Holy Spirit is third. The Father is not begotten, but the Son is (John 3:16). The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father (John 15:26). The Father sent the Son (1 John 4:10). The Son and the Father send the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26). The Father creates (Isaiah 44:24), the Son redeems (Gal. 3:13), and the Holy Spirit sanctifies (Rom. 15:16).

This subordination of order does not mean that each of the members of the Godhead are not equal or divine. For example, we see that the Father sent the Son, but this does not mean that the Son is not equal to the Father in essence and divine nature. The Son is equal to the Father in his divinity but inferior in his humanity. A wife is to be subject to her husband; but this does not negate her humanity, essence, or equality. By further analogy, a king and his servant both share human nature. Yet, the king sends the servant to do his will. Jesus said, “For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me,” (John 6:38). Of course, Jesus already is King; but the analogy shows that because someone is sent, it doesn’t mean they are different from the one who sent him.

It might be worth looking at this thread for answers on this as well:

Theological Question about the Holy Trinity

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Hello Sandra,
I’ve researched the Trinity for over 50 years and here is the best means of describing and understanding the concept. Dr. Nathan R. Wood gives a fascinating quote regarding the Trinity that is so remarkable I would like to share it with you. I would challenge you to try to see if you can follow his drift. He is going to give a long paragraph. Then he is going to give it again, only this time he is simply going to change four words. These four words are “time,” “future,” “present,” and “past.” They are going to be changed into “God,” “Father,” “Son,” and “Holy Spirit.” You are going to find out something some of you never knew before—that time, which you live by, which you look at constantly in the way of clocks, and which you make your lives run by, is an incredible illustration of the divine Trinity. Read carefully:

The Future is the source. The Future is unseen, unknown, except as it continually embodies itself and makes itself visible in the Present. The Present is what we see, and hear, and know. It is ceaselessly embodying the Future, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. It is perpetually revealing the Future, hitherto invisible.

The Future is logically first, but not chronologically. For the Present exists as long as Time exists and was in the absolute beginning of Time. The Present has existed as long as Time has existed. Time acts through and in the Present. It makes itself visible only in the Present. The Future acts and reveals itself through the Present. It is through the Present that Time, that the Future, enters into union with human life. Time and humanity meet and unite in the Present. It is in the Present that Time, that the Future, becomes a part of human life, and so is born and lives and dies in human life.

The Past in turn comes from the Present. We cannot say that it embodies the Present. On the contrary, Time in issuing from the Present into the Past becomes invisible again. The Past does not embody the Present. Rather it proceeds silently, endlessly, invisibly from it. . . .

The Present therefore comes out from the invisible Future. The Present perpetually and ever-newly embodies the Future in visible, audible, livable form; and returns again into invisible Time in the Past. The Past acts invisibly. It continually influences us with regard to the Present. It casts light upon the Present. That is its great function. It helps us to live in the Present which we know, and with reference to the Future which we expect to see.”

—Dr. Nathan R. Wood, Secret of the Universe, 7th Ed., Warwich Press, Boston. pp. 44-45.

That is an exact description of the way time operates. It is a perfect analogy. I am using “analogy” not in the common sense of the word that something is like something or a simile or metaphor, but in the mathematical meaning of the word, which means it is an exact replica as far as every line, every angle, every corner is concerned.

SUBSTITUTE FOUR WORDS

Now let us replace the words. “Time” is replaced by “God”; the “Future” by the “Father”; the “Present” by the “Son”; and the “Past” by the “Holy Spirit” (every word the same but these four). You will see that perfect analogy and you will see the divine Trinity you have been swimming in all of your life.

The Father is the source. The Father is unseen except as He continually embodies Himself and makes Himself visible in the Son. The Son is what we see, and hear, and know. He is ceaselessly embodying the Father, day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment. He is perpetually revealing the Father, hitherto invisible.

The Father is logically first, but not chronologically. For the Son exists as long as God exists, and was in the absolute beginning of God. The Son has existed as long as God has existed.

God acts through and in the Son. He makes Himself visible only in the Son. The Father acts and reveals Himself through the Son. It is through the Son that God, that the Father, enters into union with human life. God and humanity meet and unite in the Son. It is in the Son that God, that the Father becomes a part of human life, and so is born and lives and dies in human life.

The Spirit in turn comes from the Son. We cannot say that He embodies the Son. On the contrary God, in issuing from the Son into the Spirit, becomes invisible again. The Spirit does not embody the Son. Rather He proceeds silently, endlessly, invisibly from Him. . . .

The Son therefore comes out from the invisible Father. The Son perpetually and ever-newly embodies the Father in visible, audible, livable form, and returns into invisible God in the Spirit. The Spirit acts invisibly. He continually influences us with regard to the Son. He casts light upon the Son. That is His great function. He helps us to live in the Son whom we know and with reference to the Father whom we expect to see.

That, my friend, is an exact mathematical analogy that each of the portions of the triunity of the universe are in themselves triune.
Dr Jorey

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Hi Sandra,

Another good question.

When I think about the question of how to pray or who to pray to I am reminded of the exchange that Jesus had with His disciples in Luke 11:1-4. The disciples asked the same question and Jesus responded by giving an outline of what prayer should look like. His outline instructed the disciples to pray to the Father.

But then in John 16:19-24 Jesus in talking about His death and resurrection, He tells the disciples that a day is coming when they can ask anything of the Father, in Jesus name. They will receive and their joy will be complete. To pray in Jesus name means to pray under the authority of Jesus, under His covering as we bring our requests before the Father. As Disciples of Christ we have the same privileges as Jesus’s first disciples.

Then as we move further down the revelation of God to man we have the empowering of believers through the giving of the Holy Spirit to people in the Book of Acts. It is the Holy Spirit’s role to be the empowering agent of people from the Godhead.

From this instruction from scripture, it seems to me that we should pray to the Father, in the name of Jesus and it will be the Holy Spirit that will be involved in carrying out the answer to our prayer. Now having said that, I am not sure that there is a set of rules to say that when we pray we have to do it exactly by these rules. Maybe there will be times when you feel a certain connection between yourself and one of the persons of the Trinity. I think it is completely appropriate to pray directly to that person in a way that is authentic real in the moment. Each of the three persons are relational beings that desire that we would communicate to them regularly and personally.
May the Lord continue to bless your time in communion/prayer with the Lord of heaven and earth.

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@sandra956 Hi!

I just wanted to add some supplemental information that might be helpful, when answering the questions that you mentioned. Because I think it may be helpful to distinguish between the Trinity in its ontological and economic definitions.

The Ontological Trinity is basically that all three persons of the Trinity are equally divine.
The Economic Trinity describes the role(Father, Son, Holy Spirit), that each of the three divine persons has in the Trinity.

For example, in a corporation there may be a Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Chief Financial Officer (CFO), and Chief Operating Officer (COO). Ontologically, all three are equally human beings. Economically, the designations of CEO, CFO, and COO, describe the role they each have in the economy of that corporation.

So, in the one being of God, there are three distinct persons, The Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Ontologically, all three persons in the Trinity are equally divine. Economically, the designations of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, describe the role that each of the three divine persons has in the economy of the Trinity.

So, when Jesus is referred to as “Son” or “begotten”, that is a reference to Jesus taking on a human nature in the incarnation in fulfillment of His role economically. This is in addition to His divine nature which Jesus already has ontologically, coequal with the Father and the Holy Spirit.

William Lane Craig discusses the Trinity in terms of ontological and economic terms in the below YouTube video. Although I found all of the lessons in this series helpful for understanding the Trinity.
Doctrine of the Trinity Part 10: The Relationship Between Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

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Can we have more examples to introduce the Holy Trinity to others, like Sun light and heat. And they are one and cannot be found without each other and one in essence.

Thanks for the question Mina,

I have to be honest with you there are few analogies that meet all of the building blocks for the biblical Trinity. A number that I have heard either boil down to modalism (which is a heresy) or they don’t describe something completely equal. It is hard to boil down the magnificence of all mighty God down to something earthly and physical that we humans can completely understand. :thinking:

Having said that there are a couple of descriptions that I have heard, that are worth considering but not complete in and of themselves.

The first one is a description from literature; the Trinity consists of one what, and three who’s. One what….one God, three who’s…three persons. It’s not contradictory or illogical because who and what are different literary categories that don’t conflict with each other.

The second description is from geometry; the Trinity can be like an equal-lateral triangle (each side and angle being the same), again though it is hard to bring down the majesty of God into a two dimensional figure. But each angle being equal and separate represents one of the persons of the Trinity. As one moves the others also move and have influence. The center of the triangle represents the essence of God that all angles and persons have in common.

Hopefully this may help some as you try and explain God’s magnificence to others. :pray:

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Hi, @sandra956 :wave:

There may not be an exact, accurate description of something infinite using only finite terms. But we can try using analogies for us to somehow grasp the idea of something beyond our limited comprehension. If God can be put in a box or tested in a lab, He may not be a god worth worshiping, after all.

Speaking of analogies, the closest things I can think of to somehow describe God’s nature of existence is found in His masterpiece creation, Man (i.e. Human). Some aspects of man’s existence, experiences, and relationship can give us a picture of God’s essence.

  1. The “three-in-one” feature of human existence–
    Human trichotomy, like the Trinity has this 3-in-1 feature. However, human trichotomy is unlike Divine tri-unity in that the human body-soul-spirit cannot exist separately, whereas the Father-Son-Holy Spirit do. (See “What is the spirit of a person, and what is it’s role?” for details.)
  2. The “three-in-one” nature of the realities of human experience–
    Time (past-present-future); Space (length-width-height); Matter (solid-liquid-gas). Such observable pattern suggests a Designer.
  3. The unifying factor of human relationship–
    Relationships unite. And no other relationship is so united, and so unifying other than the relationship which the creator Himself has ordained, marriage.

If the consistency of the “three-in-one” features of human experiences—(suggesting a Common Designer)—and the unifying factors of human relationship are inescapable realities of human existence, could it not be that our Creator also exist in a personal, relational existence?

Now, why do we stand for a monotheistic, “three-in-one” God, instead of a polytheistic, tripartite gods?

Deut. 6:4
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:”

1 John 5:7
“For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”

The word “trinity” does not exist in the Bible. But its essence does permeate in the Scriptures. To reject the Doctrine of Trinity is to cause myriad of doctrinal inconsistencies and contradictions: worship of Jesus will be idolatry, praying to the Holy Spirit will be blasphemy, and saying the apostolic benediction will be vanity.

Hope his helps :blush:

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The Trinity

God is Triune. God is one God who is manifested in three distinct persons, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Each person is fully divine and equal to the other two; yet they are not three Gods, but one, fully and completely united in purpose. They are not three Gods but one. The word used to describe this attribute of God is known as the Trinity (triad, union of three). The doctrine of the Trinity states:

1st: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2nd: Each person is fully God.
3rd: There is one God.

Trinity is not a word which Jesus used. It is not even found in the Bible, but it is used to describe what we know about God. The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult subject to understand even for many Christians. But one must be clear on one fact— Christianity stands or falls by what the doctrine says. The doctrine of the Trinity is not an invention of men, nor is it an addition to the Bible. The Trinity is a crystallization of the teachings of the Bible.

The creation story hints of the trinity with the plural words US and OUR, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” (Genesis 1:26 NIV).

“For there are three that testify the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement” (1 John 5:7 & 8 NIV).

“If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:7 NIV).

Many scriptures mention all three persons of the Godhead.

“But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you…” (John 14:26 NIV).

“We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3 NIV).

“That all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him” (John 5:23 NIV).

The Son has been entrusted with the power of judgment. He possesses equal dignity with the Father and shares with him judicial as well as executive authority. Conversely, since the Son is equal in authority, He can rightly claim equal honor with God.

For he received honor and glory from God the Father when the voice came to him from the Majestic Glory, saying, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” We ourselves heard this voice that came from heaven when we were with him on the sacred mountain (2 Peter 1:17 & 18 NIV).

These verses explain how and when Peter was an eyewitness of the majesty of Jesus Christ. God the Father gave honor and glory to Jesus. The “honor” is the public acknowledgment of his being the Son of God, and the “glory” is the transfiguration of the humiliated Son into his glorious splendor. On the Mount of Transfiguration, Jesus’ face shone like the sun, his clothes became as white as the light, and a unique voice sounded from a bright cloud that covered them and said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The scene showed Jesus as Messiah and was a preview of his glory as King.

Peter emphatically says, “We [i.e., Peter, James, and John] heard this voice that came from heaven,” while they were with Jesus “on the sacred mountain.” It was the Transfiguration that transformed the mountain from a common one into a sacred one.

“You were shown these things so that you might know that the LORD is God; besides him there is no other” (Deuteronomy 4:35 NIV).

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4 NIV).

“The most important one” answered Jesus, “is this: Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Mark 12:29 NIV).

That God is one does not deny the doctrine of the Trinity.

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30 NIV).

“I and the Father” preserves the separate individuality of the two Persons in the Godhead; the word “one” asserts unity of nature or equality. The Jews were quick to apprehend this statement and reacted by preparing to stone Jesus for blasphemy because he, a man, had asserted that he was one with God.

Three significant things took place when Jesus Christ was baptized in the Jordan River by John the Baptist. These three things further validate and authenticate the doctrine of the Trinity.

As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and 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; with him I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16 & 17 NIV).

Jesus Christ the Son was baptized. When Jesus stepped out of the water the Holy Spirit came down upon him. Then the voice of the Father is heard. In one single episode we find the manifestation of all the three persons of the Trinity.

In conclusion, God’s final revelation of his attributes and his character is found in Jesus Christ. If we want to understand fully who God is and what he is like, then we must look to Jesus, who was God in the flesh.

The writer of Hebrews states, “In the past, God spoke to our forefathers at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word” (Hebrews 1:1-3 NIV).

@sandra956
You’ve already received several insightful and thoughtful responses so I’ll keep my thoughts brief!

In “The Mind of the Maker” Dorothy Sayers explains how St. Augustine held the opinion that, “a Trinitarian structure of being is not a thing incomprehensible or unfamiliar…you know of many such within the created universe.” She then goes on to explain that we find the Trinity to be mysterious for the same reason that we find four dimensional space-time to be mysterious - because it’s so universal that we cannot “get outside it to look at it.”

As humans, we bear God’s image and part of that image bearing gift is that we ourselves have a trinitarian nature. Humans have a mind, a body, and a spirit - each distinct entities but making up one human. The analogy Sayers uses throughout “Mind of the Maker” to explain the Trinity is the creative process used to write. The author has an idea for a story which is fully formed - the Father. The author undertakes the activity to fully express the idea - the Son. The completed activity which communicates the idea exerts power on and through the reader - the Spirit.

I’ve listed some other examples of trinitarian structures in nature to show our universal experience of trinities.

  • the physical universe, space, mass, time
  • water as solid, as liquid, as gas but the same chemical formula
  • fire needing fuel, oxygen, and energy for ignition (heat)
  • time as past, present, and future
  • dimensions of space as length, breadth, height

Obviously, any analogy taken too far will almost always break down but that doesn’t diminish their power in bringing understanding or clarity.

Rather than being seen as a hindrance to understanding God, I think God describes himself as a Trinity because we are familiar with trinitarian structures in his creation. Humans will never fully grasp all of who God is - He is the mystery and the Trinity is a way He describes himself to help us know Him.

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Hi @sandra956, great question and great responses on this thread!

Indeed the subject of the Holy Trinity has always been the center of critical debates and varied positions. Closer home to me just this past Saturday, a questioner in an evangelism class posed the question whether infact the concept of the trinity points to the worship of three gods, and further questioned the logical possibility of of a triune God. The Holy Trinity may not be easily or quickly understandable, but it is certainly not an impossibility as we contend the mystery of an eternal God.

A triune God implies One in being and Three in person.Two characteristics or terms can attempt to explain this;

  1. The What-ness = the essence or being or nature of something, in this case the God Nature or Divine being and therefore One in being as God
  2. The Who-ness = the personhood, in this case Three distinct persons or Three separate consciousness with different roles but share the same nature or being.

The terms Whatness(nature/being) or Whoness(personhood) are not contradictory and therefore support the logical possibility of a triune God.

One of the ways that speaks to the separate roles of the triune God;

1.Justification = (by God the Son) - saved from the penalty of sin. Happens when you accept Christ as Lord and saviour.
2. Sanctification = (by God the Holy Spirit) - saved from the power of sin. Is happening daily in the lives of believers as we are helped to become Christ like.
3. Glorification = (by God the Father) - saved from the presence of sin. Will happen when we meet our Father in heaven.

I hope that this sheds further light and is helpful. God bless you!