Some time ago, a reader of Signs of the Times® wrote and asked us why Seventh-day Adventists believe in the doctrine of the Trinity, which he said is “about as pagan as Nimrod’s Christmas tree or the Aztec’s totem pole.” In this article, I will share with you my response.
I’ll begin by defining the word Trinity. It’s the Christian teaching that God is One in three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Of course, all informed Christians will tell you that the word Trinity is not found in the Bible. However, Christians have given names to other doctrines that do not appear in the Bible, including the millennium (1,000 years) and the incarnation (Christ, a divine Being, taking on human nature). Similarly, the word Trinity expresses what many Christians, including most Seventh-day Adventists, believe to be a correct teaching of the Bible.
However, my purpose in this response is neither so much to prove that the Trinitarian doctrine is true nor to persuade you to believe it. Primarily, I want to give you the biblical evidence Trinitarians cite for this teaching.
One of the most famous verses in the Old Testament clearly affirms that God is one: “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one” (Deuteronomy 6:4). How, then, can New Testament Christians say that God is three—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? It doesn’t seem like both could be true.
Let me ask you three questions. First, is a clover leaf one leaf or three? It’s both, of course! The one leaf has three parts. Similarly, the one God is also three. Second question: Are husband and wife one person or two? They are two, of course, yet the Bible proclaims them to be “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Their oneness is not mathematical but rather a oneness of spirit and purpose. And third, shortly before His death, Jesus prayed to His Father that His disciples “may be one as we are one” (John 17:11). But Jesus had 12 disciples. How could He pray that they all be one? Because their oneness was spiritual, not mathematical. Jesus went on to compare the oneness of His disciples to the oneness that exists between the Father and Himself: “that they may be one as we are one” (emphasis added). It’s the same with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Their oneness is spiritual, not physical.
The next basic question about the Trinity is whether Jesus and the Holy Spirit are separate Persons from the Father and equal with Him as Deity.
Let’s begin with Jesus. There can be no question that He is a separate Person from the Father. While Jesus was on earth, He continually prayed to His Father as a separate Person from Himself, and He always spoke to others about His Father as a separate Person. Is Jesus divine then? Those who reject the doctrine of the Trinity either deny that Jesus Christ is divine or, if He is divine, they believe His divinity is of a lower order than the Father’s. However, there is significant evidence in the New Testament that Jesus is a fully divine Being. Following is some of the primary evidence that Trinitarians offer in support of the full deity of Jesus Christ.
In one of His temple discourses, Jesus said, “Before Abraham was born, I am!” (John 8:58). The Bible says that “at this, they [the people listening to Him] picked up stones to stone him” (verse 59). When Moses asked God how he should identify Him to the Israelites enslaved in Egypt, God told Moses to call Him “I am” (Exodus 3:14). The Jews considered it blasphemy—a crime punishable by death—for a human being to claim to be God, which is why they started to stone Jesus when He spoke of Himself as “I am.” On another occasion, the Jews tried to stone Jesus, and when He asked them why, they said, “Because you, a mere man, claim to be God” (John 10:33). It’s very significant that Jesus did not deny the charge.
Consider the following biblical evidence of Jesus’ divinity:
- He raised people from the dead, which only God can do (John 11:43, 44).
- He claimed to have life in Himself, which only God has (John 10:17, 18).
- He created all things, which only God can do (Colossians 1:16).
- He sustains the entire universe by His power, which only God can do (Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:17).
- He has existed from eternity and is self-existent, which are qualities of Deity alone (John 1:1–3; Revelation 1:17, 18).
- Numerous texts about God in the Old Testament are applied to Jesus in the New Testament (Psalm 68:18 and Ephesians 4:8; Psalm 102:25–27 and Hebrews 1:10–12; and John 1:23).
- In several places, the New Testament calls Jesus God (John 1:1; 1 John 5:20; Titus 2:13).
What about the Holy Spirit? Most Christians accept the idea that the Spirit is divine. The question is whether the Spirit is merely a manifestation or attribute of God the Father or a separate Person from the Father. Jesus consistently spoke of the Spirit as a Person in His own right. In John chapters 14 to 16, He repeatedly referred to Himself, the Father, and the Spirit as separate Persons. For example, He said to His disciples, “I [Jesus] will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth” (John 14:16, 17). The Bible also speaks of the Spirit acting in His own right and not merely as an attribute of the Father. For example, Jesus said that the Spirit convicts people, guides them, and speaks to them (John 16:8, 13). And Paul said that the Spirit intercedes on our behalf with God (Romans 8:26, 27). If the Spirit is merely an attribute or manifestation of the Father, that would mean that the Father intercedes with Himself!
The Spirit also has the primary attributes of God: He is eternal (Hebrews 9:14), He is everywhere present—He dwells in every believer (1 Corinthians 6:19), and He knows all things (1 Corinthians 2:10). The Holy Spirit inspired the Bible (2 Peter 1:21), and He can be blasphemed (Mark 3:28, 29). So, there is significant biblical evidence that the Spirit is as much a divine Person as are the Father and the Son.
Several places in the New Testament speak of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit separately. I will mention three. I have already called attention to John 14:16, 17, which records Jesus’ statement “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever—the Spirit of truth.” Second, all three Persons of the Trinity were present at Jesus’ baptism. Obviously, Jesus was there, since He was the One baptized; the Father said, “This is my Son, whom I love”; and the Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove (Matthew 3:13–17). And third, the baptismal formula of the Great Commission mentions the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19).
There is also significant Old Testament evidence for the Trinity. One of the Hebrew names for God is Elohim, which is plural. In the Creation story, God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Genesis 1:26; emphasis added). Notice that God refers to Himself in the plural with the pronouns Us and Our. And Isaiah 9:6—which for two thousand years Christians have considered to be a Messianic prophecy—attributes to Jesus Christ the names “Mighty God” and “Everlasting Father.” These are obviously titles of Deity in the fullest sense of the word.
My primary purpose in this article has been to provide the biblical evidence on which Trinitarians base their understanding of God. The evidence I have provided makes it clear that, whether you agree with the doctrine of the Trinity or not, it has a strong biblical basis. It did not arise out of paganism.
Marvin Moore is the editor of Signs of the Times® magazine. He and his wife, Lois, live in Caldwell, Idaho.