The Key to the Trinity: A Lockdown Discovery

There are a few pre-pandemic realities I don’t want to go back to, one of which is a reservation I used to have about the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not that I denied the doctrine, or doubted that there were three distinct divine Persons. What gave me pause was that the Bible never calls them that – “Persons.” No Bible software I have, not even the one I paid for, returns occurrences for “the second and third Persons of the Trinity,” or “God the Son” and “God the Spirit,” for that matter. You will search the Scriptures in vain to find many other terms (“economic Trinity”) and phrases (“There are three Persons in one God”) that commonly appear in trinitarian discussions.

Of course, the word “substitution” doesn’t occur in the Bible either, but the truth it reflects is clearly biblical. It is a joy in evangelism to show unbelievers the truth that Christ died as a substitute for ungodly sinners. By contrast, isn’t the teaching of the Trinity a cloud for some of us, a thick fog threatening to obscure the simple gospel, blocking out the light of the Son? You give someone a John 3:16:

“Look at this! The Bible says God loves you and gave you His Son!”

“The Bible actually says that? Tell me more. Who is this Son?”

“His name is Jesus. He’s fully man and fully God. He came to die on the cross for our sins.”

“Oh, so you believe in two gods?”

“I most certainly do not. Wherever did you get that from?”

“Well, first you said God loved me and gave me His Son. And then you told me that His Son is Jesus, and He is fully God. So there must be two gods.”

“Ah, I see your point. Yes, the Father is God, and His Son is God, but there’s still only one God.”

“I’m sorry, but that makes no sense to me, and I doubt it makes sense to you either.”

“To be honest, the Spirit is God too. You just have to believe it. Are you ready to trust in Jesus now?”

Though imaginary, the above dialogue illustrates the embarrassment we could feel about the doctrine of the Trinity. After a few conversations like this, a Christian can begin to wonder if it isn’t more of a hindrance than a help. One in three and three in one; wouldn’t we be better off without such mystifying formulations? And if you use an analogy from daily life to help, even as tantalizing a one as apple pie (one pie, three slices), some young theology buff is bound to cry heresy on you. Meanwhile, both the apostolic preaching in Acts and the apostolic teaching in the epistles seem so straightforward by contrast. “God” refers to the Father, and this Father has a Son (the “Son of God”) and a Spirit (the “Spirit of God”).

For this reason, one does not have to travel a lot or drill far down into YouTube comments to find evangelical voices calling for a return to New Testament simplicity. The Trinity doctrine is man-made, not scriptural, they claim. It is an unnecessary stumbling block, a doctrine invented by councils centuries after our Lord ascended, that prevents many, Jews and Muslims especially, from trusting in Christ and receiving the gift of eternal life. Let’s go back to scriptural language, such voices urge, and proclaim “the Son of God” as the one and only way to “God the Father” by the power of “the Spirit of God.”

Let’s go back – not to Nicaea, but to the New Testament. Please note with care: the voices I’m referring to are calling us to Scripture’s terminology, not away from it, for the sake of gospel witness, not to hinder conversions to Christ. They are not modalists,[1] and they willingly affirm the full deity of Christ and the Spirit. After all, they point out, one would expect God’s Son to have the same nature as His Father. One would expect the same of God’s Spirit too.

I am aware of more and more people who are attracted by the apparent simplicity of this view. Maybe man has complicated what in God’s Word is easily grasped. At the same time, they do feel the opposing pull of centuries of Christian orthodoxy. If the Trinity doctrine is merely a man-made invention, how did the great theologians and teachers of the past fall for it? More importantly, what about the biblical evidence itself? Scripture may not call the Lord Jesus “God the Son,” but in several places it does predicate of Christ, not only that He is God in nature but that He is “God.” There’s also the powerful exegetical evidence that the New Testament identifies Jesus as Yahweh, the covenant name for God.

For some this feels like an impasse. They are unwilling to deny trinitarian teaching on the one hand, and unable to affirm it unreservedly on the other. During the last two years of shutdowns, the Lord gave me the desire and opportunity to work through these matters again for myself. My prayer throughout was that He would help me know the truth, to keep me from “limping between two different opinions” (1Ki 18:21 ESV). I believe He answered my prayer. I am convinced by Scripture that the doctrine of the Trinity is not man-made, but thoroughly biblical.

In this series of articles we’ll be making a journey. I want to revisit the texts the Lord used to help me and point out some of the riches they contain. We won’t bypass the difficult texts along the way; instead, we will look long and hard at them and see that they actually lend their support to the doctrine. By journey’s end, I hope we’ll see that the Trinity doctrine originates not in the mind and councils of men but in God’s holy Word.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Where shall we start? With the Lord Jesus Christ, of course. If you struggle with doubts about the Trinity, I invite you to consider Christ afresh with me. Thomas made a lockdown discovery (Joh 20:26-29). Maybe you’ll make one too: that Jesus Christ is the key – the key to understanding the Trinity.

[1] Daniel D. Shutt, “Ancient Errors, Modern Examples: Modalism,” Truth & Tidings, August 2021.