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What does the Bible say about the Trinity?

When we speak of God as a "Trinity," that means God exists in a state of being a single entity of three distinct persons. No human, animal, or other creature in creation has ever existed as a trinity—only God. A triune God is a concept we can barely scratch the surface of understanding because it's a state wholly unfamiliar to our own existence and experience.

Would you be an expert mathematician after reading a single book about calculus? Can you explain social media marketing well enough to make a kindergartener a guru on every platform? Can you write a one-page essay resolving every possible question a 14-year old has about romance? Given enough time, could you help a grasshopper become a high-ranked player in Fortnite?

You’ll answer “no” to all those for two reasons. First, these topics require more than just facts to be fully understood. Second, the target audience might not be physically capable of ever “getting" it. But just because you can't easily explain something to someone, that doesn't mean it's automatically false or fictional. Fortnite is still a thing—even if grasshoppers will never understand it.

Can we agree that some topics take a lot of time to grasp, and some parts of those topics may never be fully understood by ANY audience?

Even the greatest scholars have limits to their understanding in their own fields. When we talk about the Trinity, there’s no reason to expect it to be crystal clear, obvious, or easy. It’s just not—and for a single reason we can never overcome: we are not God.

That partly explains why we can’t expect perfect understanding of the Trinity state in which God exists. Nor can we demand that the Bible provides perfect understanding. The problem is not that the Trinity is false—it’s that not every organism can understand everything there is to understand. Yes, it stinks to realize we’re limited, but the fact remains: WE ARE.

Some things, we'll never understand.

The Bible never pretends that God is exactly like us (or vice versa). Yes, we’re created in His image (Genesis 1:27), so we share some of His personality traits. But a computer program that imitates human behavior isn’t anywhere near as complex as the actual individual who wrote the program. Biological parents may "make" their children, but that doesn't mean their children will fully understand what it's like to BE their parents.

The Bible doesn't use the word "trinity," rather it's a word Christians use to explain this fundamental aspect of the nature of God—the One being above all else, who created all things. And the intricacies of God’s nature are WAY beyond any human being (Isaiah 55:8-9).

What CAN we understand about the Trinity?

Now, just because we can never fully understand the Trinity, that doesn’t mean we can't understand anything. For most purposes in daily life, we can get the idea well enough. The Bible points to this concept of the Trinity by establishing many things that we CAN understand about God:

  1. There is one God—and only one.
    Deuteronomy 6:4; 1 Corinthians 8:4; Galatians 3:20; 1 Timothy 2:5
  2. Actions are associated with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—sometimes as separate persons at the same time.
    Genesis 19:24; Isaiah 48:16
  3. Scripture distinguishes members of the Trinity from each other.
    Matthew 28:19; John 14:16-17; 2 Corinthians 13:14; Hebrews 1:8-9; Numbers 27:18; Psalm 2:7, 2:12, 45:6-7, 51:10-12; Proverbs 30:2-4; Hosea 1:4
  4. Each individual person of the Trinity is described as God.
    John 1:1, 1:14, 6:27; Acts 5:3-4; Romans 1:7, 9:5; 1 Corinthians 3:16; Colossians 2:9; 1 Peter 1:2; Hebrews 1:8; 1 John 5:20
  5. The persons of the Trinity have different roles but are still equally God.
    Matthew 11:27; Luke 22:42; John 4:42, 5:36, 16:13-14, 20:21; Acts 10:38; 1 Corinthians 8:6; Colossians 1:16-17; Titus 3:5; 2 Peter 1:21; Revelation 1:1, 4:11; Genesis 1:2; Job 26:13; Psalm 104:30; Isaiah 61:1

This bigger-picture look at God’s Word shows He is one “being” yet also three “persons,” each of whom are equally God, yet who act in different roles. These biblical truths provide a basic understanding of God as a Trinity—a triune or three-in-one being. Again, it's OK—it isn't easy for mere mortals to wrap our heads around this.

Explaining the Trinity: Know Your Limits

Just like there’s no perfect way to understand the Trinity, there’s no perfect way to explain it. Every analogy or image we come up with is going to have some flaw. That’s OK, but it’s important to know what the flaw is.

You may have heard Sunday School teachers comparing the Trinity to things like eggs, the three states of water (i.e. solid, liquid, gas), and so forth. Those can help a little, but they all imply the persons of the Trinity are three separate things from each other completely or the same person changing jobs in some way. That’s a mistake called “modalism,” which isn’t what the Bible teaches.

A somewhat more useful analogy is the relationship between your mind, your ideas, and your words. To some extent, each of those is “you,” but they each play different roles in different contexts. They can’t be separated, but they aren’t exactly the same, without distinction. Where this analogy breaks down is in how the mind, ideas, and words interact; they don’t have the kind of perfect yet autonomous coordination we see in the Trinity.

Like it or not, a key part of trying to explain or understand the Trinity is knowing we can only get so close to perfection. Even a genius kindergartener could never master the intricacies of social media marketing, and the most astute grasshopper could never play Fortnite or talk strategy for the game. Of course, if you happen to see a little green insect doing the floss, let us know, and we can update this article.

ALSO SEE: What kind of being is God?

TL;DR

The Bible can’t fully explain the Trinity because human beings can’t fully understand it. It’s a fundamental aspect of God, and God is WAY beyond us (Isaiah 55:8-9). What the Bible does tell us is that there is one God, a single being, in three persons. These persons have distinct roles, but they are all equally God. Analogies will never be perfect, so we can’t take any of them too far. Really “understanding” the Trinity starts with realizing that we’ll never perfectly understand it.

By: Jeff Laird

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.


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