Welcome to the concept of “Trinity”, one of the more mystifying ideas presented in Scripture. Although the word itself is not used in the Bible, the idea is there from Genesis to Revelation.
The best explanation I can come up with is a comparison between two-dimensional objects vs. three-dimensional ones. If we were two-dimensional stick figures, if our entire universe were flatly two-dimensional, we would have no reference point to understand a cube. Such a thing would seem absolutely, ridiculously, impossible to us. The Bible presents God as a three-personal unity, a Tri-Unity or Trinity, one God in three Persons. His “Being” has more dimensions than we can imagine or comprehend.
Seeing God as a three-Person Trinity makes sense of the many references to God as both singular and plural, or to any one of the Three as God, that are given throughout the Bible.
The Singular, Plural, God
In the very first verse of Genesis, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”, the original word for “God” is the Hebrew plural word elohim. But it is used with the singular version of the verb “created”, bara. Consistently, when the Bible uses elohim to refer to God rather than generic little-g gods, it is paired with a singular verb form. “The One Gods” says or does something. Later in the Creation account, Genesis 1:26 says “Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness”. Notice the mix of plural with singular again: The “Us” has one image or likeness acting as the pattern for mankind.
The most revered name for the God of Creation is anglicized as “Yahweh”, from the way He introduced Himself to Moses as “I AM WHO I AM” (Hebrew YHWH) (Exodus 3:13-14). That name “I AM” is so holy that the Jews would not even speak the word; they substituted elohim or adonai (Lord) instead.
The First Person, the Father
This is the Person referenced most often in the Old Testament, and continuing on into the New Testament. He is the One Who usually comes to mind when we hear the word “God”.
The Jewish people called God the “father” of their nation, in the sense of being the foundation or authority figure (Psalms 68.5, Psalm 89:26, Malachi 2:10a, John 8:41b). Jesus was unique in saying “My Father” in a personal sense, as opposed to “our Father”.
The Second Person, the Son
That brings us to Jesus as God’s Son. This title was given to Him even before His birth, in the announcements to Mary and Joseph (Luke 1:30-33, Matthew 1:20b-21). Jesus is not only God’s human Son; He is also the second Person of God. The fancy word for this is “Incarnation”, meaning “to make into flesh” (John 1:14). The always-existing Second Person of God chose to become one of His own creatures! But, at the same time, He didn’t stop being who He is: God.
A major prophecy in Daniel tells of “one like a Son of Man” being presented to the “Ancient of Days” and given omnipotent authority (Daniel 7:13-14) 1. The religious rulers in Jesus’ day were NOT happy when He referred to Himself as the “Son of Man”, obviously saying that He was this divine authority figure. They weren’t fond of Him forgiving sins either (Matthew 9:2-7), or overruling their idea of the Sabbath (Mark 2:27-28), or using the most-holy “I AM” to refer to Himself. (John 8:57-59a). This was one of the main reasons that those leaders wanted Him dead: They thought that it was the height of blasphemy for Him to equate Himself with God. They would have been correct, if He weren’t telling the truth!
Some of my favorite expressions of Jesus-is-God are:
- “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). The word “Word” used by John is the Greek logos, meaning expression or communication. One of the Second Person’s roles is to communicate God to us. Just as a person’s speech lets us know what they think and who they are, Jesus came to help us understand God more clearly (John 1:18).
- “He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature” (Hebrews 1:1-3). Here again, Jesus is expressing the nature of God so that we can know Him better.
- “I am in the Father and the Father is in Me” (John 14:8-11a).
- (Jesus speaking to the Father) “I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was” (John 17:4-5).
- In an interesting note, check out Isaiah’s well-known prophecy of the Messiah 2, which says that He (Jesus, the Messiah, the Son) will be called “Mighty God” and “Eternal Father”:
For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; and the government will rest on His shoulders; and His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. There will be no end to the increase of His government or of peace, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and righteousness from then on and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will accomplish this.Isaiah 9:6-7
It’s telling that John chose to start his gospel with the words “In the beginning”, the same as Genesis. John’s next sentence says that Jesus was not simply present in the beginning; He was the actor in Creation: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” (John 1:3) Paul repeats this in his letter to the church at Colossae (Colossians 1:16).
There is a wonderful song that does a great job of showing the juxtaposition of Jesus-as-human while also Jesus-as-God:
He was so much man that He slept in a boat,Recorded by Greater Vision, written by Craig Edwards
Yet He was so much God that the winds ceased when He spoke.
He was so much man that He wept when Lazarus died,
Yet He was so much God Lazarus came forth when He cried.
He was so much man that He thirsted at the well,
Yet He was so much God that He saved her soul from Hell.
He was so much man that He died upon a tree,
He was so much God that He rose in victory. 3
The Third Person, the Spirit
The second verse of Genesis says that “the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.”. The Hebrew for “Spirit” is ruah, meaning “wind” or “breath”. The Greek equivalent used in the New Testament is pneuma, from which we get the English words “pneumonia” and “pneumatic”. This expresses the Person of God Who “breathes life” or translates the will of God into action.
The Spirit is promised by Jesus as a Helper (Greek parakletos, “one who walks alongside”) who would be sent to support His followers after He left the earth. But, when promising to send the Spirit, Jesus says “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you.” (John 14:16-18, John 14:26, John 15:26-27)
All Three Persons, Together
There are fascinating accounts of all three Persons of God making themselves known at the same time at Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:16-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:22, John 1:32-34). Another major reference to all Three is the Great Commission in Matthew (Matthew 28:18-20). This link lists 20 different verses that mention all Three Persons at once.
This post just hits the highlights of what the Bible says about God in all Three of His Persons. There is much more available for further study. For instance, there are Old Testament references to the “Angel of the Lord” who seems to be more than a mere angel (Genesis 22:11-12, Exodus 3:2-4, Genesis 16:9-13, Psalms 34:7). Many interpret them as referring to the Second Person before His incarnation as Jesus of Nazareth.
I hope this post does at least answer the question “Why believe in the Trinity and the Incarnation?”. The short answer is simply “Because that’s what the Bible says”. ** Scripture is teaching us about dimensions to God that we “flat” humans would never be able to discover on our own!
** As to why I believe what the Bible teaches, that’s a separate article.