Christians are sometimes accused of polytheism, specifically believing in three gods, thanks to a misunderstanding of the Holy Trinity. The truth is, believers don’t regard the “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” of the Bible in the same way we regard Ironman, Captain America, and Nick Fury from the Avengers.
Yes, the Trinity is a mind-blowing idea—three persons within the same being. But saying God is a triune God is our way of trying to explain a being whose entire existence is way beyond human understanding. But accusations that belief in the Trinity is polytheistic are based on false assumptions of Christian beliefs and a misunderstanding of the Trinity—not what the Bible teaches.
First of all, belief in multiple gods is completely against the teachings of the Bible. Scripture makes it clear that there's only ONE God (Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5). AND the Bible is clear that God is a spiritual being of three distinct "persons": God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit (Genesis 1:1, 26; 3:22; 11:7; Isaiah 6:8, 48:16, 61:1; Matthew 3:16-17, 28:19; 2 Corinthians 13:14).
Three "persons" in one being is not the same as three separate gods. And yes, this is starting to get confusing, but the tri-unity God is a part of the mystery of who God is (Job 11:7-12). (Also See: What kind of being is God?)
That said, it is true that the term "Trinity" is not used in Scripture. As we said, "Trinity" is a word we use to define the mind-blowing concept of three-in-one that the Bible DOES illustrate. Some object to using the word "Trinity" because they want to respect the Bible, but they are likely mistaken about what the Bible teaches about God and/or they misunderstand what the Trinity means in this context.
Others may use the concept of the Trinity to attack the Christian faith, but this is only because they're bent on "proving" that anything in the Bible is wrong.
Almost every problem with understanding the Trinity starts and ends with thinking we can ever fully comprehend God Himself. Never in this existence will we ever truly "get" the concept of a triune God. No, that's not a cop out, and it’s not an excuse to avoid addressing something broken about the idea. It just means some things are beyond the ability of the human mind to grasp—like how God can exist outside of time. We have zero context for what that might even be like.
God is not human; He’s as far “above” humanity as a human is “above” a computer program (Isaiah 55:8-9). If we could somehow talk to ants, they’d probably think human politics, romance, sports, and comedy were mind-blowing and impossible to fully grasp. That doesn’t make those ideas wrong, it just means that not all brains can handle every level of reality.
For example, the landscape of Mars isn’t contradictory or imaginary just because an earthbound termite would have a hard time understanding it. To understand what the Trinity is—and why it’s wrong to say Christians believe in three gods—we have to start with the realization that we’re discussing a supreme being who is fundamentally different from a human. God's existence as three-in-one is something we WILL have difficulty fully comprehending.
The meanings of words change over time and in different contexts. Back in the 1990s, the word "phone" literally meant one thing: a device used to make voice calls. The 21st century use of the word "phone" is only vaguely connected to making voice calls anymore. A "phone" now refers to an incredible number of things—a device to watch media, play music, share images, send messages, read news, take photos and videos, record notes, etc.
Sometimes we pick words because we can only get "close enough"—even if it isn't a perfect definition of what we want to say. A "phone" today is really more of a handheld digital link to a practically unlimited database of information and community connection on the internet. But what do we call that thing in your hand right now? A "phone."
In sort of the same way, we use terms like “Father” and “Son” to describe God because it's as close as we can get to describing the relationships between those two persons and how they relate to one another. Calling God the "Father" and Jesus the "Son" doesn't imply there’s exactly the same relationship as with a human father and his biological son, but it helps us get close to understanding. Jesus is God's Son (John 1:14), but He is also fully God (John 10:30).
There’s a lot more to what the Trinity means and how it works than could ever fit into a short article. However, the closer we get to understanding the Trinity, the more it helps explain other things taught in the Bible. Having a God who can experience communication and love without having to create anyone else means the God of the Bible does not require or desire anyone else to be infinite with Him.
The unity-diversity we see in the Trinity explains why we can see unity-diversity in creation. The fact that persons in the Trinity can have different roles and exactly equal value helps explain how God intended marriages, families, and churches to work. And so on...
The bottom line is that NO, Christians do not believe in three gods. The Trinity does not teach that, and believers do not interpret the Trinity in that way. There are 2,000 years of documented proof that “three gods” is not the way Scripture describes God, who is a three-in-one being.
Christians do not believe in three gods; they believe in a triune God. “Christians believe in three gods” is something said when someone doesn't understand the word Trinity or how believers see God. "Trinity" is a word we use to explain how God is one single being AND also three persons. We aren't required to understand it perfectly in order to accept the reality of it. But it’s not a contradiction because the Bible repeatedly backs up the concept of a single triune God. When we accept God's three-in-one nature as the Trinity, it can help us make sense of other things we read in Scripture, such as relationships within the home, workplace, or church.
Jeff is a staff writer with Got Questions Ministries and used to be a mechanical engineer. When he's not accidentally setting things on fire in his workshop, or petting strange dogs, he loves helping people better understand God’s Word and how it applies to our lives. Jeff's calling is to untangle the "big picture" of Christian faith, making it easier to understand.