Three Crucial Questions About the Trinity: Part Three (The Trinity in the New Testament)

(Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the CSB).

We’re taking a look at one of the core doctrines of the Christian faith: belief in God as Trinity. We believe in one God who eternally exists as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As classical theologians have sought to explain it, God is “one Being, three Persons.”

Part One explored whether the doctrine of the Trinity was made up long after the Bible was written (spoiler: it wasn’t!). In Part Two, we looked at how the Old Testament contains a few hints of the Trinity, but for the most part it took pains to stress the truth that there is only one true God, not many gods.

With the foundation of God’s oneness laid in the Old Testament, the New Testament begins to reveal more clearly God’s three-in-oneness. Let’s look at the New Testament support for the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Trinity Revealed in the Life and Ministry of Jesus

As soon as we turn to the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) that begin the New Testament, we are met with a striking claim: in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, we are beholding “God with us” (Hebrew: Immanuel; Matthew 1:23). From the start, then, we are clued in to the fact that this Jesus is no ordinary man.

And this Jesus does and says some extraordinary things. As he begins working miracles, casting out demons, and forgiving people’s sins, the Jewish leaders accuse him of blasphemy for claiming equality with God (Mark 2:6-7; John 10:30-33Matthew 26:65). How is it, they wondered, that this lowly craftsman from Nazareth could have the audacity to proclaim, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58)?

As he walked the dusty streets of Galilee and Judea, healing and delivering people from darkness, Jesus not only announced the good news of God’s coming rule and presence — he embodied it.

In light of this gospel revelation, the earliest followers of Jesus had their understanding of God radically expanded as they sought to answer this question: Just who is this Jesus? Who is this man who claimed, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30) and “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9)?

At the same time that Jesus claims oneness with God the Father, the Gospels also make clear that he is not to be confused with God the Father; Jesus is his own distinct person. He prays to the Father (Matthew 11:25), he surrenders his own will to that of the Father (Luke 22:42), and he promises to send the Holy Spirit as the gift of the Father (John 15:26).

When Jesus is baptized by John at the start of his ministry, we see all three members of the Trinity acting at the same time in distinction — the Father makes an announcement from heaven, the Son is baptized in the Jordan, and the Spirit descends in a visible manifestation (Matthew 3:16-17Mark 1:9-11Luke 3:21-22).[1]

Jesus later commissions his disciples to baptize others “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19). Note the singular: this is one name. One God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Three divine Persons, united in name, in being, in character, and in mission.

And in case you were wondering whether the Gospels ever indicate that the Holy Spirit is also God, just notice that Jesus warns against blaspheming the Holy Spirit (Matthew 12:31-32; Luke 12:10), and blasphemy is a crime one commits against God.

Note also that on the night before his crucifixion, Jesus told his disciples that he would send the Holy Spirit to them to be with them forever (John 14:15-17). Immediately after saying this, Jesus adds that this will be equivalent to him coming and being with them again (John 14:18)! The Son and the Spirit are united, for they are both members of the divine Trinity.

Thus, it is primarily the life and teaching of Jesus that reveals that God is triune.

The Trinity in the Rest of the New Testament

This revelation of God’s three-in-oneness continues throughout the rest of the New Testament, as Jesus’ earliest followers sought to unpack the implications of what he had revealed.

Right off the bat, notice that the apostles Paul and Peter explicitly refer to Jesus as God:

“. . . from [the Jews], by physical descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, praised forever. Amen.” — Romans 9:5

“. . . while we wait for the blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” — Titus 2:13

“To those who have received a faith equal to ours through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” — 2 Peter 1:1

For those who claim that the earliest Christians didn’t believe Jesus was actually God but was rather just a human agent of God, it’s tough to get around these verses without ignoring Scripture or twisting its grammar.

Consider also how Paul speaks of Jesus in Romans 10:9-13. He tells us that “If you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. . . . For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'” To say that “Jesus is Lord” means more than just saying he is your master; Paul is talking about believing that Jesus is the LORD, the God of the Old Testament! He makes that clear by the fact that he quotes an Old Testament verse that described calling on the name of Yahweh for salvation (Joel 2:32)!

Like Paul, Jude also equates Jesus with the God of the Old Testament. When referring to the Exodus of Israel from Egypt, Jude explicitly says that “Jesus saved a people out of Egypt and later destroyed those who did not believe” (Jude 5).

Thus, from the very beginning, Christians recognized Jesus as God. At the same time, the New Testament also consistently distinguishes between the Father, the Son, and the Spirit.

The Gospel of John opens with what has become the most classic statement of the equal divinity of the Father and the Son: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). 

It goes on to say, “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We observed his glory, the glory as the one and only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. . . . for the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. The one and only Son, who is himself God and is at the Father’s side— he has revealed him” (John 1:14, 17-18). 

So Jesus the Son is God, but he is not the Father.

In his letter to the Philippians, Paul beautifully describes how God the Son became human in obedience to the plan of the Father:

Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus,
who, existing in the form of God,
did not consider equality with God
as something to be exploited.
Instead he emptied himself
by assuming the form of a servant,
taking on the likeness of humanity.
And when he had come as a man,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient
to the point of death—
even to death on a cross.
For this reason God highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow—
in heaven and on earth
and under the earth—
and every tongue will confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.” — Philippians 2:5-11

While we’re on the subject of Philippians 2, remember that in my previous post I mentioned how, in Isaiah 42:8, God declares that he will not share his glory with anyone else, nor his praise with any false gods? I also mentioned that this is important to keep in mind when we read how the New Testament depicts Jesus being glorified alongside the Father!

Indeed, God goes on to say in Isaiah 45:22-23 that there is no Savior besides him, and that “Every knee will bow to me, every tongue will swear allegiance.” Yet here, in Philippians 2:10-11, Paul references this very verse from Isaiah but tells us that every knee will bow and every tongue swear allegiance to Jesus!

For a Jewish writer like Paul to declare that Jesus will share the Name above all names with God the Father reveals an astonishingly high view of Jesus — namely, the recognition that he is divine.

Scripture also makes clear that the Holy Spirit is every bit as divine as the Father and the Son. In Acts 5:3-5, lying “to the Holy Spirit” is lying “to God.” In Hebrews 9:14, the Spirit is said to be eternal, as only God is.

Just like how he speaks of Christ, Paul speaks of the Holy Spirit as being one with God the Father and yet also distinct: Now God has revealed these things to us by the Spirit, since the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except his spirit within him? In the same way, no one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 2:10-11). 

And lest we think that the Holy Spirit is just an impersonal force, notice that Scripture says he can be grieved (Isaiah 63:10Ephesians 4:30), which makes clear that he is personal and relational. The Holy Spirit is also said to bear witness (Acts 5:32; Romans 8:16), to make decisions that guide the church (Acts 15:28), and to speak to believers (Acts 8:29; 11:12; 13:2), further revealing his divine personhood. 

And I can’t go without mentioning the passage that I believe to be the clearest and most powerful declaration of the deity of the Holy Spirit, 2 Corinthians 3:16-18“. . . but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. We all, with unveiled faces, are looking as in a mirror at the glory of the Lord and are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory; this is from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

Thus, the Holy Spirit is nothing less than a full-fledged member of the divine Trinity.

And finally, consider two places where all three members of the Trinity are grouped together:

1) In Paul’s final blessing on the Corinthian Christians: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Corinthians 13:13).

2) The beginning of 1 Peter, which says Christians are saved “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through the sanctifying work of the Spirit, to be obedient and to be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 1:2).

The Trinity as the Underlying Melody of Scripture

Much, much more could be said about the Trinity in Scripture than can (or should) be condensed into a single blog post. Even if this overview seems long, it only scratches the surface.

I could mention how all three members of the Trinity are actively involved in the divine work of creation (Father in 1 Corinthians 8:6; Revelation 4:10-11; Son in John 1:3; Colossians 1:15-17; Hebrews 1:2; and Spirit in Genesis 1:2; Job 33:4).

We could discuss how salvation is the work of all three (Father in 2 Thessalonians 2:13-142 Timothy 1:8-9; Son in Luke 19:10; 1 Timothy 1:15; Revelation 1:5-6; Spirit in John 6:63; 1 Corinthians 6:11; all three in Galatians 4:4-6; Ephesians 1:3-14Titus 3:4-6).

And we could notice that Jesus’ resurrection is attributed to all three (Father in Acts 5:30; 1 Corinthians 6:14; Son in John 2:19; 10:17; and Spirit in Romans 1:41 Peter 3:18).

The Trinitarian reality underlies the entirety of the biblical vision of God, like a melody stretching throughout a symphony. Many times we hear the note of God’s oneness stressed; at other times we hear the notes of the equal deity of Father, Son, and Spirit. But ultimately these notes all blend together in the majestic harmony of the Trinity.

It’s impossible to exhaust the depths of this mysterious but beautiful truth. But for now, I hope that this overview helps lay to rest any doubts in your mind about the biblical support for the doctrine of the Trinity. If it hasn’t, leave a comment or send me a message! As should be obvious by now, I love to talk about it! 🙂

In the next post, I’ll conclude this Trinity series with a look at why this doctrine is so crucial. What difference does it make for you? How does God-as-Trinity affect your everyday life?

Find out next time!

[1] This is why it’s important not to hold to a “modalist” view of God, which is the view that God is not triune, but rather sometimes appears as “Father,” at other times as “Son,” and then at other times as “Spirit.” Such a changing, “Transformer” God does not fit with what we see in Scripture, where all three members of the Trinity appear simultaneously and are co-eternal.

Categories: New Testament, The Trinity, Theology

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  1. Three Crucial Questions About the Trinity: Finale (Why Is the Trinity So Important?) – Theology Pathfinder

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