Christians believe that the Bible is the word of God. Sometimes what God has to say is very clear and direct and sometimes it is more obscure and needs thought or interpretation. The Trinity is one of the more obscure ideas. In fact, the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear anywhere in the Bible. So what is it and where did Christians get the idea of Trinity in reference to God?There are a number of English translations of the Bible which is a Latin translation of Hebrew and Greek documents. Depending upon the translation, the meaning of certain passages becomes clearer or more confusing. In spite of having many English translations, the word Trinity still does not appear. So what does the word Trinity mean?
The word Trinity is used in an attempt to describe the three natures of God: the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Although God is One, God is also three-in-one. The idea for this understanding of God comes from different passages in different parts of the New Testament (the Christian Bible).
There is only one God. Christians know this from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible). Over and over again, throughout these scriptures, God is depicted as a unity.
With the advent of Jesus and his teachings, a new concept of God appeared.
The clearest reference to the Trinitarian nature of God comes in Matthew 28:19 when Jesus commanded his disciples to baptize “:in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Other references to God as a Trinity comes at the time of Jesus’ baptism. (Mt 3:13-17)The clouds parted, a dove came down, and a voice was heard to say: ‘This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.” Jesus is apparently the son being referred to. The voice is assumed to be the voice of God, who must be a father if he is referring to Jesus as his ‘son.’ What is said of the dove? The dove is assumed to be an image of the Holy Spirit.
Before his death, Jesus tells his disciples that they will receive the Holy Spirit (Jn 20:22) to sustain and strengthen them. In Acts, when the disciples were gathered in the upper room, a great wind blew through the room and tongues of fire appeared over their heads. Christians see this as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:1-21)
While Jesus was fasting in the desert for 40 days after his baptism, the devil visited him to tempt him. The devil refers to Jesus as “the Son of God” and referred to Jesus’ powers. (Mt 4:1-11)
Throughout his ministry Jesus performs miracles (or as John calls them, ‘signs’). When Jesus told the crippled man that was brought to him at Peter’s house, to “take up your bed and walk” he preceded this command by saying “Your sins are forgiven you.” The Pharisees were appalled and said to each other, “Only God forgives sins. Who is this man who claims to forgive sins?” (Mk 2:5-11)
The Pharisees were right. Only God can forgive sins. Jesus frequently told the people he healed that their sins were forgiven them. (He saw the forgiveness of sins as more important than the healing of the body.)
Raising the dead is an act of God. Although Jesus raised the dead on more than one occasion (Jarius’ daughter (Mk 5:21-24; Matt 9:18-19, 23-26; Lk 8:40-42, 49, 56), the widow of Nain (Lk 7:11-17) it was the raising of Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44) that, beyond a doubt, demonstrated Jesus was not just a man but also divine. He deliberately waited until Lazarus had been in the grave for four days, and had already begun to decay, before he arrived in Bethany. Both Mary and Martha chided him for his delay saying, ‘if you had been here he would not have died.’ In the presence of a large crowd, he called Lazarus to ‘come forth’ out of the tomb. This was a clear rising of the dead, unlike the other examples that could have been interpreted as simply a deep coma.
Only God can forgive sins and only God can raise the dead.
After his death, Jesus appeared to his disciples a number of times. They did not recognize him immediately as he appeared as a transformed body. He proved he was substantial by having Thomas put his fingers in the wound in his side and on his hands. He proved he was insubstantial by moving through locked doors and walls. (Jn 20:24-29)
Jesus referred to God as “Father” and taught his disciples to refer to God as Father as well. (See the Lord’s Prayer. Mt 6:9-13) When Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, he begged “Father let this cup pass from me.” Just before he died, he said, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.”
God is the Father, Jesus is the Son and the Holy Spirit infused the disciples with the strength to evangelize the world and die for their faith.
The Gospel of John opens with the words, “In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God and the Word was God.” John clearly saw Jesus as divine.
If Jesus is divine and the Holy Spirit is divine, how can God be a unity? It is a mystery.
The notion of Trinity, or an attempt at explaining the Christian belief in a triune God, was eventually promulgated by the Church in response to theological conflicts in the Church. There were many who believed that Jesus was only divine. Others believed he was only human. If Jesus is not divine, he is not God. To counter the confusion on the dual nature of Jesus, the first general church council was held in Nicea early in the fourth century. To reaffirm Jesus’ nature as both divine and human, the Church also had to reaffirm the three natures of God. The second church council, held at Constantinople late in the fourth century, reaffirmed the duality of Jesus’ nature and promulgated the theology of the Trinity.
The word Trinity, therefore, applied to the three natures of God, first appeared in the fourth century. Because the word ‘Trinity’ does not appear in the Bible, it does not mean that the theology of the trinity is incorrect. Although there are some Christian groups that have difficulty with this concept, most Christians firmly believe in a Triune God.