Where is the Trinity Seen in Scripture?
*Note: The following article is an adaptation of a sermon I preached at Bible Fellowship Church answering the question, “How do we better understand the ‘Godhead’?”
The fundamental question of life is, Who is God? Some might argue that the fundamental question of life is What is the meaning of life? but to ask that question without first having a picture of God makes no sense. God is the Creator of all, and therefore our place in his universe (in other words, our meaning in life) only comes into focus if we know who God is first. Without him and his designs, our lives have no real, lasting purpose.
Therefore, answering the question Who is God? correctly is incredibly important. If this is the question that the rest of our lives are built upon, then answering it wrongly will make us all messed up. Without a correct understanding of who God is…
- we will not know him or have a relationship with him
- we will not know our correct place in the universe
- we will be following a false god or gods
- we will incur God’s judgment and wrath
In contrast, by knowing and loving the true God, our lives will be filled with eternal significance and blessing. In other words, it is really important for us to rightly understand God!
This is true not only of God in general but Jesus specifically. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, the apostle Paul says that some people preach and teach “another Jesus”. These teachers use the name of Jesus, but they are not referring to the real Jesus. The one they put forth is a figment of their own imagination. Therefore, even religions other than Christianity that speak highly of Jesus (such as Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses) need to be sure the Jesus they believe in and promote is the real Jesus, not “another Jesus”. I contend that in both of the religions mentioned, they believe in a false Jesus.
So, how do we understand the nature and being of God?
The word “Godhead” is used almost synonymously with the word “Trinity”, though they don’t technically mean the same thing. Trinity specifically makes reference to God’s triune-ness, while Godhead implies plurality but no specific number. Nevertheless, in Christianity they refer to the same basic concept: God is three-in-one.
Godhead is a variant of the middle English word (from the 13th-15th centuries) godhood, a term popularized by men such as John Wycliffe. Godhood means “divine essence”. To use a non-technical phrase, it refers to God’s godness. Godhood is what makes God God. Just as manhood or womanhood is the essence of each gender, so godhood is the essence of God.
Godhood was adapted into Godhead in order to capture God’s essence more specifically. Because of Wycliffe’s use of the word, it ended up in the landmark King James Version (KJV). This translation of the Bible was the main English Bible for hundreds of years, which is why the term “Godhead” continues to stick around.
However, most modern translations have dropped the term “Godhead” for modern and more readily-understandable alternatives. For example, compare the 3 places that Godhead is used in the KVJ to the English Standard Version (ESV), which is the translation our church uses most frequently.
- Acts 17:29 (ESV) Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man.
- Acts 17:29 (KJV) Forasmuch then as we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like unto gold, or silver, or stone, graven by art and man’s device.
- Romans 1:20 (KJV) For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse.
- Romans 1:20 (ESV) For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.
- Colossians 2:9 (KJV) For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
- Colossians 2:9 (ESV) For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.
You can see a pattern in how modern translators understand the word “Godhead”.
- In Acts 17:29 – “Godhead” to “divine being”
- In Romans 1:20 – “Godhead” to “divine nature”
- In Colossians 2:9 – “Godhead” to “deity”
The Godhead is that which makes God uniquely divine. The Godhead, as Christians have understood it over the centuries, is a reference to the triune nature of God. That is, that there is one God who exists in three persons. That is not to say that three gods make up one God. That is also not to say that each person is 1/3rd God. It is also not to say that there are three gods. Instead, the phrase, as illogical and confusing as it sounds, is meant to be taken to mean exactly what it says. There is one God, and that one God exists eternally in three distinct persons.
Is the Trinitarian View of the Godhead Biblical?
The Bible is God’s standard for truth. The Scriptures are the very Word of God, without error or contradiction. Therefore, we turn to them in all matters to determine if something is truthful or not. Is the Godhead really a 3-in-1 being? Christians have historically taught this to be so, but past Christians are not our measure for truth. The Bible is. Therefore, we must ask the question, where is the Trinity seen in Scripture?
In addition, we must come to the Bible with the mindset that we will receive what it teaches, regardless of our ability to understand it. There are many things in the Bible that are clearly taught but not altogether explainable. This does not make God contradictory, but mysterious. The mysterious nature of God does not make him untrustworthy, since God has proven his love for us by his own death as a sacrifice for our salvation. A God like that can be trusted, even in areas that are harder to grasp. Therefore, let us come to the Bible with an open mind, seeking what it reveals, and willing to affirm it regardless of our own ability to understand it.
There are three ways to see the Trinity in the Bible:
- Verbal hints
- Visual clues
- Explicit references
A verbal hint is where the Bible alludes to something unique about God’s nature that could be taken to support the Trinity. However, because it is only a hint, it cannot alone be used to defend this view. It is useful only when taken with other, more explicit, evidence (more on that later). Yet verbal hints are helpful because they still do add to the bulk of Scriptural evidence defending the Trinity.
Here are four examples of verbal hints that point to a Trinitarian Godhead.
- Genesis 1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.
The word translated “God” here is the Hebrew “Elohim”, which is a generic word for God that is in the plural form. It’s exact meaning can vary depending on the context it is used in. For instance, in the NASB translation of the Bible, Elohim is rendered as “God” over 2,300 times and as “gods” over 200 times. It is rendered in the singular (God) in Genesis 1:1 because the context clearly implies that the verse is referencing the God of Israel, and not the gods of other nations. Isn’t it interesting, then, that Biblical authors use a plural word to describe the God of the Bible? This by itself can’t prove anything, but it is a rather interesting way to begin the Bible. From the opening sentence, the Scriptures hint to the uniqueness of God.
- Genesis 1:26 Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’
Just a few verses later, as God is creating Adam and Eve, the Lord speaks to himself using plural language (“us” and “our”). Since God is not crazy or schizophrenic, there must be a valid reason for God to refer to himself with plural pronouns. Though there is no explanation given at this point in Genesis, further study of the Bible reveals it is because of God’s 3-in-1 nature.
- Genesis 11:7 “Let us go down and confuse their language…”
Again in Genesis, God refers to himself in plural language, this time when going down to confuse the languages of man as they build the Tower of Babel. Why would God do that, unless there was a reasonable explanation?
- Deuteronomy 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.
One of the most important verses of the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:4 had to be memorized and regularly repeated by the Jewish people. It is perhaps the clearest statement in the Bible that there is only one true God. The Israelites – and subsequently, Christians – are not polytheistic (worshipers of multiple gods) but monotheistic (worshipers of one God). Yet what is amazing is that the word “one” is translated from the Hebrew word “echad”, which means a single unit composed of multiple parts. It would be used to describe, for example, a cluster of grapes. So here we have two essential truths, one stated clearly and another hinted at: that there is one God, and that one God is a plural being.
A visual clue is where the multi-person nature of God can be seen with the eyes. It is an event where God is in two places at one time. This is not the same as God’s omnipresence (that God is everywhere all the time), but rather a moment when God manifests himself visibly as two separate beings in two separate places at the same time. There are a number of examples of this, but I will only mention two.
The first example happens on over a dozen occasions with an appearance of “the angel of the Lord”. Though there are many angels in the Bible, all of them are referred to as “an angel” of the Lord except for one who is called “the angel” of the Lord. The distinction between an angel and the angel suggests that something is special about this angel. Many Bible scholars believe that the angel of the Lord is a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus Christ. I agree with this position. This is because the angel of the Lord speaks as if he is God on many occasions. Here is one instance:
- Judges 2:1 Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you”
Anyone with knowledge of the Old Testament knows that it was God who brought Israel out of Egypt, and is the one who made a covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Yet here, the angel of the Lord says it was he who did this. How can that be? This being is not calling himself “the Lord” but “the angel of the Lord”. This means that there is two beings – the Lord, and the angel of the Lord – who both claim to be Israel’s deliverer. God is in two places at once: as the Lord (presumably in heaven) and as the angel of the Lord on earth. This confusing contradiction makes much more sense when viewed with a triune God in mind.
All three members of the Godhead (the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) are present at Jesus’ baptism. The Bible describes it:
- Matthew 3:16-17 And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him;  and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
Here, at one moment in time, the Father is audibly heard from heaven, the Son is visible as Jesus, and the Holy Spirit descends on him visibly in the form of a dove. In one snapshot, all three members of the Trinity are present at one place at the same time. This is the clearest visual clue of the Trinity in the whole Bible.
In addition, this refutes one false teaching known as modalism. Modalism is the belief that God exists as one God and one person, but that he manifests himself as three different persons (Father, Son, and Spirit) on different occasions. Modalism believes that the Father, Jesus, and the Spirit are actually the same person, just showing up in different forms or modes (something like water, ice, and mist). But this makes no sense with the rest of the New Testament where more than one member of the Trinity is present together, and much less sense here when all three are present. The simplist and most logical explanation is that God’s nature is unique, which allows him to be three persons simultaneously while continuing to be one God.
An explicit reference is just that – a place in the Bible where the Father or Son or Spirit are said outright to be God. The Bible can say that each of these are God, and that there is only one God, only if the Trinity is true. Thankfully, the Bible is jam-packed with references to the divinity of each member of the Godhead. Though there could be many more, let’s break it down into just 5 categories and see if each is true of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
CATEGORY 1 – Where a member of the Godhead is explicitly said to be God
In all truth, this category alone should close the debate on this issue. If the Bible straight-out calls all three (Father, Son, and Sprit) God, then it should be an open and shut case. Nevertheless, to show how pervasive this truth really is revealed in the Bible, we will continue on to examine another 4 additional categories.
- Galatians 1:1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father…
There are dozens of references to the Father as “God”; Galatians 1:1 is just one instance. In fact, the majority of the time “God” is used in the Bible, it is in reference to the Father. This one is easy to point out and no one really argues against it.
- Hebrews 1:8 But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”
Here, God (the Father) calls the Son “God”. This is truly remarkable! It is one thing to accuse people of misapplying the label of God to Jesus, but it is quite another to accuse God the Father of it.
- John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
This is a peculiar statement. A being referred to here as “the Word” is not only with God, but is God. How can God be with God? A triune understanding of God helps it to makes sense. We know that “the Word” is a reference to Jesus because in verse 14 John says that “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”, an obvious reference to the incarnation of Christ.
- John 20:27-28 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.”  Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!”
After rising from death, Jesus appears to his disciples. Here, he is particularly concerned with Thomas, the one who most strongly doubted the resurrection. Jesus proves it is really he by having Thomas examine the scars on his body from his crucifixion. Thomas responds by calling him “my Lord and my God“. Of note, Jesus does not rebuke Thomas for this, but rather commends him for believing.
- Acts 5:3-4 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land?….You have not lied to man but to God.”
After bringing only a portion of the proceeds from a real estate sale – when saying he had brought 100% of it – Ananias is confronted by Peter for lying. Ananias and his wife Sapphira, who was in on the ruse, are both struck dead by God for this act. But what is interesting is that Peter clearly equates lying to the Holy Spirit with lying to God. This could not possibly be a clearer reference to the Holy Spirit as being God.
Conclusion from Category #1
With the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit each clearly referred to as “God” in Scripture, there is nothing else to conclude except that each truly is God. This makes God a 3-in-1 being, a concept not fully understandable but (more importantly) shown clear as day in the Bible. Therefore we must receive it, believe it, celebrate it, and defend it, even if we cannot wrap our minds around it.
CATEGORY 2 – Where a member of the Godhead is said to be eternal
There is only one being in the whole universe that is eternal, and that being is God. God has no beginning and no end. He simply is. He is a self-existing entity. This is what makes him God. Therefore, if the Father, the Son, and the Spirit are all called eternal, they are each being labeled as God himself.
- Deuteronomy 33:27 The eternal God is your dwelling place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Again, almost every reference to God in the Old Testament is a reference to the Father. This makes Deuteronomy 33:27 one of dozens and dozens of references to the eternal nature of God the Father.
- John 17:5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.
A number of examples could be used, but Jesus says it clearly in John 17:5 – that he existed with God the Father before the world was made. Genesis 1:1 tells us that the world was made “in the beginning”, which means that the Son was around before “the beginning”. It is a clear reference to his eternal nature.
- Hebrews 9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.
The Bible could not be more clear on this issue than it is. The Holy Spirit is called here “the eternal Spirit”, meaning that the Holy Spirit must be God.
CATEGORY 3 – Where a member of the Godhead is said to have created the universe
Genesis 1:1 clearly states that it was God who created the heavens and the earth. Therefore, if the Bible credits the Father, Son, and Spirit each with creation, it is referring to them as God.
- Job 38:1,4 Then the LORD answered Job out of the whirlwind and said… “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.”
God’s sarcastic response to Job’s lack of faith begins with establishing God as the Creator. The Father puts Job in his place by reminding him that the universe did not make itself, but has an all-powerful Creator behind it.
- Colossians 1:16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.
This passage shows that Jesus created “all things” – there is no two ways around it. And, if God is the one who is the creator (Genesis 1:1), then the logical conclusion is that Jesus is the Creator God.
- Job 33:4 The Spirit of God has made me, and the breath of the Almighty gives me life.
Job was created by the “Spirit of God”. The mention of God’s “breath” is also a reference to the Spirit, as the Bible often calls the Holy Spirit “breath” or “wind”. This also links to God’s creation of Adam from the dust in Genesis 2:7, where God breathed life into the nostrils of Adam, and he became a living being. Job 33:4 and Genesis 2:7 are both showing that human life is created (an act only God can do) by the Holy Spirit. It is also useful to note that Genesis 1:2 mentions the Spirit of God being active in creation, although in a vague allusion. Therefore, the Holy Spirit is the Creator God.
CATEGORY 4 – Where a member of the Godhead is said to be able to forgive sin.
People do not just sin against people. Ultimately, every sin is also a sin against God. Speaking of God, Psalm 51:4 says “against you, only you, have I sinned”. This is because God is the one who sets the moral order. To steal, for example, is a sin against another person for taking what was theirs. But it is also a sin against God because he is the one who said “thou shall not steal”. This means there is a sense in which people can forgive sin, if they are the one who has been sinned against. But only God can forgive any and every sin, since they are all sins committed against him. Therefore, if the Bible credits the Father, Son, and Spirit all as having the ability to forgive any sin, it is placing them in a position that only God can be in. The Bible would be calling them God. So, where does the Bible say each can forgive sin?
- Matthew 6:9-12  Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.  Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.  Give us this day our daily bread,  and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
Jesus’ exemplary prayer includes asking the Father to “forgive our debts”. This is another way of referring to sin. The Father can forgive our debt of sin because the debt we owe is to him alone.
- Luke 5:20-21 And when he saw their faith, he said, “Man, your sins are forgiven you.”  And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Jesus does the unthinkable by forgiving a man’s sin. To be clear, the man had done Jesus no wrong, so Jesus is not forgiving him of a personal grievance. Rather, Jesus is forgiving this man of every sin. In doing so, Jesus is placing himself in the seat of judge that belongs only to God, as the scribes and Pharisees rightly note (vs. 21). Not only does Jesus forgive this man’s sin, but to prove that he is God, he also heals the man of paralysis. Jesus’ power is the same as that of God, by healing sickness and forgiving sin.
- John 20:22-23 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”
As the resurrected Jesus is commissioning his disciples, he gives them the power to forgive sin. On what grounds could he possibly give them such authority? Answer: By giving them the Holy Spirit. Verses 22 and 23 are linked. Without the Spirit, the disciples would have no authority to forgive sin. This means that the Holy Spirit is equal with God, since he can forgive sin.
CATEGORY 5 – Where a member of the Godhead is said to be worthy of praise
Only God is worthy of praise. I’m not talking about human praise for an accomplishment, such as winning a spelling bee. I’m talking about ultimate worship, the kind of devotion that only befits God. All three members of the Trinity are said to be worthy of praise in Scripture, making each of them to be God. This is important because there are instances in the Bible when people or angels refuse worship. For example, Peter is worshipped in Acts 10:25, but refuses it on the basis that “I too am a man”. In Revelation 19:10, the disciple John attempts to worship an angel and is refused because the angel is “a fellow servant”. Mere men are not worthy of worship, nor are angels, since both are just servants of God. God alone is worthy of worship.
- Revelation 4:11 Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.
Though Jesus is also seen in Revelation, we can know it is the Father being referred to in chapter 4, verse 11 because the “Lamb that was slain” has not yet entered the heavenly vision. God the Father is described as being “worthy” of worship, and rightly so.
- Matthew 28:9 And behold, Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him.
The two Mary’s meet the risen Christ and worship him. Unlike Peter or the angel of Revelation, Jesus does not refuse their worship. In fact, Jesus is worshipped on a number of other occasions (Matthew 2:11 and 14:33, John 12:13 and 20:28). This is because Jesus is worthy of worship – because he is God.
- 2 Corinthians 3:8 …will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?
Receiving glory is the same as receiving praise. God the Father, in Revelation 4:11, is said to be “worthy…to receive glory”. Likewise, the work and ministry of the Holy Spirit makes him worthy have glory. This is because his ministry is miraculous; he does the works of God. The Holy Spirit, being worthy of glory, is clearly made to be God.
Though there are many more passages of Scripture that could be used to defend each point, and there are additional categories that we could look at, but the above provides more than sufficient evidence to prove that the Trinity is clearly revealed in Scripture. The God of the Bible is a three-in-one being. He is triune in his existence. This may not be completely understandable, but – more importantly – it is undeniable. It is a beautiful truth to be believed in and even cherished. God is unique and unlike every other being in existence. His basic nature is beyond our full comprehension. He is mysterious, yet knowable, because he has shown us everything we need to know about him through his Word.
Our amazing God – Father, Son, and Spirit – is the one true God. He alone is God. He alone is eternal. He alone is the creator. He alone can forgive sin. And he alone is worthy of praise. I encourage you to respond to this God in a way befitting him, with humility and awe and worship.