A Biblical Analysis of the Doctrine of the Trinity

Thus far, I have written three brief analyseslogical, philosophical, and theologicalof the doctrine of the Trinity. Now, we come to a biblical analysis of the doctrine. I will primarily discuss certain passages of the Bible that are said to favor or to support the Trinity. Further, I will see if the Bible as a whole necessitates a Trinitarian understanding of the Hebrew God.

THE OLD TESTAMENT

Genesis 1:1-2 ESV

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.

Many Trinitarians will say that right here at the beginning of the Bible, the Trinity can already be seen. They will point out that the word translated “God” is the Hebrew elohim, which is plural but is followed by a singular verb. In other words, that a plural noun is being used in a singular sense indicates a plurality within God. However, elohim is used for other deities as well. For example, in Judges 16:23, the Philistine god Dagon is called an elohim. In other words, the use of the word elohim, when used as a singular noun, is likely just a generic word that refers to a god.

The passage also mentions “the Spirit of God” (Gen. 1:2). However, the Hebrew word ruach, which is here translated “Spirit” does not necessarily mean anything with a personality. It can also mean “wind” and “breath.” It also translated “cool” in Genesis 3:8 (ESV): “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” In every instance that the Hebrew word ruach is translated as “Spirit” in the Bible does not necessitate that it be understand as a person. This is not to say that ruach should never be understand as referring to a person. For example, in Job 14:15-16, the word seems to be used in reference to a being: “A spirit glided past my face; the hair of my flesh stood up. It stood still, but I could not discern its appearance. A form was before my eyes; there was silence, then I heard a voice” (ESV).

Isaiah 48:16 ESV

Draw near to me, hear this: from the beginning I have not spoken in secret, from the time it came to be I have been there.” And now the Lord God has sent me, and his Spirit.

The argument typically made here for the Trinity is that it is God who is being sent by God, along with the Holy Spirit. In other words, if God is sending God, God cannot be only one person. However, there is at least one other way to understand this text that make significantly more sense. In the original Hebrew, there were no quotation marks, so the context was key to determining who was the speaker. It is possible that this verse switches to the words of Isaiah, since Isaiah had been the one proclaiming the word of God “not in secret” and also was sent by God. This understanding would make more sense, all things considered.

THE NEW TESTAMENT

Matthew 28:19 ESV

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

Because all three persons of the Trinity are said to be mentioned here, Trinitarians will claim that this clearly demonstrates the Trinity. Now, there is some plausibility to this since Jesus is saying that his disciples are to baptize in the name of all three. That one should be baptized in the name of all three does not necessitate that all three be equal. However, it does seem to show that the Holy Spirit is personal, since the other two clearly are. Still, this passage does not need to imply the Trinity, since it would be a leap in logic to say that all three must also be God.

John 1:1 ESV

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

In light of John 1:14, which says, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (ESV), it would seem pretty clear that Jesus is the Word being referred to here. Although the Spirit is not mentioned in this passage, this would seem to at least show the deity of Jesus. The author goes on to explain: “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made (John 1:3 ESV). Here seems to be the best passage to use if one wishes to show that Jesus is divine. However, John 1:1 could also read: “the Word was a god.” This is because there is no indefinite article (In English, a and an) in Greek. In other words, the verse is actually unclear in the Greek as to whether the Word was the same God of the Hebrews. It would read naturally if the Word is understood to be a god who was also with God.

Another possible explanation is that John 1:14 is not speaking of the incarnation of Jesus. The Greek word logos, translated “Word,” according to Strong’s Concordance means: “a word (as embodying an idea), a statement, speech1.” In the case of John 1:14, it could be that the logos was physically manifested in the person of Jesus but that Jesus was not God himself. However, this understanding of the Word cannot be God or a god, but only the communication of God. Some will suggest that the lack of the definite article (In English, the) before theos (the Greek word for god) indicates that theos should be understood as an adjective. This does not seem to be a the most probable understanding, especially considering that there is actually another Greek word (theios) that means “divine (god in adjective form).

DOES THE BIBLE AS A WHOLE NECESSITATE THE TRINITY?

One argument for the doctrine of the Trinity is that it necessarily follows from the biblical data. It is argued that the Bible teaches that there is one God but at the same time teaches that the Father is God, that the Son is God, and that the Holy Spirit is God. Therefore, if the Bible teaches these things, God must be triune. It does not seem to me that there is a necessity, biblically speaking, for there to be only one God, but that only one God be worshipped and that this God be the Hebrew God. However, a strict monotheism did seem to develop among the Jews, likely even around the time of Jesus. As for whether each is said to be God, there does seem to be plausibility that the Bible does, even if only implicitly, teach the deity of Jesus but only in the New Testament (see Romans 9:5; Hebrews 1:8). In the Old Testament, there is no exegetical reading, as far as I know, that would lead one to conclude that God is triune. In other words, the New Testament has more passages in favor of a Trinitarian understanding of God, although such an understanding was probably never clearly taught before the 4th century. There certainly were ways that the authors of the New Testament could have expressed the doctrine of the Trinity, even if it was not in Nicene language.

CONCLUSION

The two Old Testament passages and the two New Testament ones that I discussed are no an exhaustive list of verses used to support the Trinity. Unfortunately, a full biblical analysis of the doctrine would be quite lengthy. As for now, I conclude that the Old Testament does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity whereas the New Testament does contain some verses at least implying the deity of the Son and perhaps suggesting that the Holy Spirit is separate from the Father. There seems to be an incoherence between the Old Testament and New Testament regarding the Trinity. However, I have not yet come to a final conclusion.

NOTES:

1. “3056.logos.” Bible Hub. https://biblehub.com/greek/3056.htm

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