When I graduated high school and began college I was placed in some classes that were called “remedial” classes. They were classes designed for freshman college students that scored low on entrance exams. English was one area I was deemed to be low in according to college standards. I started reading and writing to improve my English skills. Part of that meant I needed to improve my vocabulary. I began reading books and kept a dictionary close at hand. If I came across a word I did not recognize I would look it up in the dictionary, write the word down in the margin of the page, and write the definition next to it so that I could reference the word later on in the book if I came across the word again. One of those words I remember looking up was the word “paradox.” A paradox as I now know is “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true” (Dictionary.com). When new Christians begin to study the Bible and learn about the Trinity sometimes they think that the doctrine is a paradox that does not make sense: three unique persons united in one essence.
Photo Credit: Photo Credit: “Holy Trinity” by Hendrick van Balen
Now that we have studied the attributes of God, how God is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I now want us to look at how the three members of the Godhead exist in community and relationship with each other. I’d like us to look how the members of the Godhead relate to each other and how the three persons exist as one essence. The book, Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity, is not a book I would recommend reading but I did come across a helpful quote about how the relationships among the Trinity exist.
Fatherhood and Sonship are relational terms, and so are neither substantial nor accidental. The claim here runs as follows: Father and Son are two existences of the same simple essence, distinguished by the relationship of begetting, and by that relationship only; that relational distinction is their difference from each other—the Father is not the Son—but it does not compromise the simplicity of the divine essence. Similar arguments can be made about the Father and the Spirit and the Son and the Spirit ~ Stephen Holmes, “Classical Trinity” in Two Views on the Doctrine of the Trinity, 37.
First, let’s examine how the three persons exist as one essence.
Relationships within the Trinity
I. THREE IN ONE
Now let’s look at how these unique persons can exist as one essence.[ref]”God, the cause of all, is One. This One is light and life, spirit and word, mouth and speech, wisdom and knowledge, joy and love, the Kingdom of Heaven and Paradise, the heaven of heavens, just as He is called the sun of suns, God of gods, day without evening, and whatever other good things you might cite from the visible world. And, if you seek beyond all that exists, you will find this One Who is, and is alone properly and substantially called Good. That One is not such as are visible things. Rather, He transcends incomparably and inalterably all the visible world.” (St. Symeon the New Theologian, On the Mystical Life: The Ethical Discourses, vol. 1, The Church and the Last Things, p. 122).[/ref]
A. God Is One
Moses was writing at a time when there were many many gods and often people worshiped all the gods they knew. With that background Moses declared that God (not “gods”) created the world (Gen 1:1), there was only one God (Exod 20:2-3), and that the LORD was one (Deut 6:4).
In the New Testament Jesus stated that there was one God (Matt 12:28-34), Paul affirmed that there was one God (1 Cor 8:4-6) and one Lord and one God (Eph 4:5-6); finally James said that there was one God (James 2:19).
B. Perichoresis – They Indwell Each Other (John 10:38; 14:7-11)
The simplest reference for how each member of the Trinity indwells (known as “perichoresis”) the other is when Jesus was near the temple (John 10:24) and he told the people not to believe in him unless he was carrying out his Father’s work, “But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe in me. Then you will know and understand that the Father is in me, and I am in the Father” (John 10:38, emphasis added).
Another strong explanation of the perichoresis of the Godhead is in John 14:7-11 where Jesus was describing the way to the Father. Jesus started out, “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Next he told the people that if they knew him [Jesus] then they would have known the Father because they know him and have seen him (John 14:7). Next Phillip asked for Jesus to show them the Father (John 14:8) and Jesus replied, “I have been with you all this time” (John 14:9). Next, Jesus revealed, “I am in the Father and the Father is in me” for the “Father who lives in me does his work through me” (John 14:10). Therefore, “Just believe that I am in the Father and that the Father is in me.” (John 14:11, emphasis added). This seems to make it clear that the members of the Godhead indwell each other. They are three unique people with one essence.
C. Uniqueness & Distinctiveness of Each Person
Various times in the New Testament we see that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are unique and distinct members of one God.
1. The Baptism Formula
The best known passage for the three members of the Godhead is the Great Commission baptism formula.
Jesus came and told his disciples, “I have been given all authority in heaven and on earth. Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20, NLT, emphasis added)
2. The “Other Advocate”
Jesus was God on earth with people, yet he talked about “another” person that would come after him to help and assist the disciples. That other person is the Holy Spirit that would come after Jesus left.
But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me. (John 15:26, NLT)
There will be an “Advocate,” which comes from the “Father.” That Advocate will testify about Jesus. He is also called the “Spirit of Truth” (NLT). This references three different people. Also see John 14:16, 26, 16:17.
3. Denying One or the Other
John’s first letter addresses whether or not someone denies Christ and the Father.
But you are not like that, for the Holy One has given you his Spirit, and all of you know the truth. So I am writing to you not because you don’t know the truth but because you know the difference between truth and lies. And who is a liar? Anyone who says that Jesus is not the Christ. Anyone who denies the Father and the Son is an antichrist. Anyone who denies the Son doesn’t have the Father, either. But anyone who acknowledges the Son has the Father also. (1 John 2:20–23, NLT)
This text references someone who denies both “God” and “Jesus.” The text then references someone who denies the Son, but if someone denies the Son that person does not have the Father either. Again we see individual people being referenced: the Son and the Father.
D. Eternal Existence Together
The beginning of John’s Gospel shows that the Father and Son have existed forever. The “Word” used below is Jesus.
In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. (John 1:1–3, NLT)
In the beginning the Word already existed (v. 1a). The Word was with God (v. 1b). The Word was God (v. 1c). He existed with God in the beginning (v. 2). God created everything through him (v. 3a). Nothing was made without him (v. 3b). They are related and together. We know that in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Gen 1:1), now we learn that Jesus participated in that creation. In some way and fashion they worked together to create the world.
Later in the same chapter John wrote,
For the law was given through Moses, but God’s unfailing love and faithfulness came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God. But the unique One, who is himself God, is near to the Father’s heart. He has revealed God to us. (John 1:17–18, NLT)
The son has existed with God forever and has revealed God to us. With that said, there are three important conclusions from John 1:1-18: 1) Jesus is fully God; 2) the Father and Son are distinct persons; 3) through the Son everything was created.
Also see John 10:30; 17:5, 24.
II. HOW THEY RELATE TO EACH OTHER
When studying the Trinity and each person’s relationship to each other, it is apparent that the members of the Trinity testify of each other, have free personal choice, love and serve one another, and that the Son and Holy Spirit both were sent by the Father.
A. Each Member Testifies of the Other
The three unique persons of the Godhead talk about other members of the Godhead.
1. The Father Testifies of the Son
The Father who has sent Jesus testifies about Jesus,
But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he [the Father] sent me. And the Father who sent me has testified about me himself. (John 5:36–37, NLT, emphasis added)
At Jesus’s baptism the Father testifies about his Son,
One day when the crowds were being baptized, Jesus himself was baptized. As he was praying, the heavens opened, and the Holy Spirit, in bodily form, descended on him like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “You are my dearly loved Son, and you bring me great joy.” (Luke 3:21–22, NLT, emphasis added)
2. The Son Testifies the Father
Jesus looks up to heaven and tells the Father, “I have revealed you [Father] to the ones you gave me from this world. . .” (John 17:6) and then shortly later tells God the Father “I have revealed you [Father] to them, and I will continue to do so” (John 17:27). In this way, the Son of God Jesus Christ testifies about God the father. Also see John 3:11, 32; 18:37.
3. The Spirit Testifies of the Son
In a unique way, the third member of the Godhead bears witness to the Son and is sent by the Father. Before Jesus was crucified he told his disciples, “But I will send you the Advocate—the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me” (John 15:26). One of the ministries of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Jesus. Also see John 16:8-15.
B. Free Personal Choice in Relation to the Other
Each member of the Godhead has the ability to make choices.
As Jesus was preparing for his death he said that the Father was working and the he too was working just as the Father was (John 5:17). Jesus also gave life to the person whom he chose (John 5:21). Jesus set an example so others could do as he had done (John 13:15).
2. Holy Spirit
The Holy Spirit’s primary description appears to be the “Other Advocate” (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7). In his role as “Advocate” (NIV, NLT, NET) or “Comforter” (ASV, KJV) or “Helper” (ESV, NASB), the Holy Spirit seems to be able to make choices and use his discernment to help people. This is because the Holy Spirit lives in the disciples and guides them (John 16:13-16). As the Spirit of Truth he convicts the world (John 16:8-11) and lives in the disciples and guides them (John 16:13-15). For more on the Holy Spirit’s ability to make choices see my post on Trinitarianism: Holy Spirit.
C. They Love and Serve Each Other
1. The Father Loves the Son
Seven times in the Gospel of John it says that the Father loves Jesus (John 3:35; 5:20; 10:17; 15:9; 17:23-24, 26).
2. The Son Loves the Father
Jesus was nearing the end of his life and told his disciples that he does what the Father requires him to do so that the world knows that he loves the Father (John 14:31).
3. Jesus Voluntarily Submits to the Father
Jesus submitted to the Father when asking the Father to take the cup of suffering away from him (Luke 22:42). Jesus loved the Father and wanted to follow his will, which was why Jesus was willing to die as the Father wanted (Luke 22:42).
D. Jesus and the Holy Spirit Were Sent by the Father
1. Jesus Sent by the Father
When talking about honoring the Son like people should honor the Father Jesus said that it was the “Father who sent him [Jesus]” (John 5:23-24). Later Jesus said that his testimony on his own behalf would not be valid (John 5:31) but “The Father who sent me has testified about me himself . . . the one he sent to you” (John 5:37-38, emphasis added). When telling what Jesus was doing on earth he said, “For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will” (John 6:38). Jesus was also sent by the God the Father.
2. The Holy Spirit Sent by Jesus and the Father
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and/or the Son often is talked about as the Filioque.
From the Father. When Jesus was on earth he told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be coming and that the Father sends the “Advocate” (John 14:26). Yet again in John’s gospel Jesus had told the disciples that he would send the disciples the Holy Spirit and that he would “come to you from the Father” (John 15:26).
From the Son. When telling the disciples about how Jesus would be leaving in the future he told them that he had to leave because if he didn’t leave then the Holy Spirit would not come. And, when Jesus would leave he would send the Holy Spirit to the disciples after Jesus had left (John 16:7-8, 13). Also see John 7:28-33; 8:16-18, 39, 42; 10:36; 12:44-45, 49; 16:5; 17:21-25; 20:21.
A. There is harmony among the Trinity and there should be harmony among the church as well.
Sometimes the church contains as much arguing and fighting as normal secular organizations. However, the church should model and follow the Trinity. As the Trinity has unique persons who have their own will and desires, yet they submit to each other and testify about each other in a positive way. Perhaps we too in the church should do the same thing to have harmony among each other.
This has been a biblical study on the Trinity. I hope that you have found it beneficial to see what the Bible says about how God is one considering the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in relationship and community together. Now, based on our study I hope that we can more fully and correctly worship our Lord God.
B. The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we “let slide” if someone does not agree on.
The doctrine of the Trinity is not something we can call “non-essential.” We need to adhere to a strict belief that all three members of the Godhead are unique persons but have one essence. We need to believe that Jesus was fully God and fully man. Additionally, we need to believe that the Holy Spirit is a person (he’s not a magical force) as well as God. If someone does not hold these orthodox views, they are outside the bounds of historical orthodox Christianity.