How can God be three persons yet one

The preceding chapters have discussed many attributes of God. But if we understood only those attributes, we would not rightly understand God at all, for we would not understand that God, in his very being, has always existed as more than one person. In fact, God exists as three persons, yet he is one God.

It is important to remember the doctrine of the Trinity in connection with the study of God's attributes. When we think of God as eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, and so forth, we may have a tendency to think only of God the Father in connection with these attributes. But the biblical teaching on the Trinity tells us that all of God's attributes are true of all three persons, for each is fully God. Thus, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit are also eternal, omnipresent, omnipotent, infinitely wise, infinitely holy, infinitely loving, omniscient, and so forth.

The doctrine of the Trinity is one of the most important doctrines of the Christian faith. To study the Bible's teachings on the Trinity gives us great insight into the question that is at the center of all of our seeking after God: What is God like in himself ? Here we learn that in himself, in his very being, God exists in the persons of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, yet he is one God.

EXPLANATION AND SCRIPTURAL BASIS We may define the doctrine of the Trinity as follows: God eternally exists as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God.

A. The Doctrine of the Trinity Is Progressively Revealed in Scripture 1. Partial Revelation in the Old Testament. The word trinity is never found in the Bible, though the idea represented by the word is taught in many places. The word trinity means "tri-unity" or "three-in-oneness" It is used to summarize the teaching of Scripture that God is three persons yet one God.

Sometimes people think the doctrine of the Trinity is found only in the New Testament, not in the Old. If God has eternally existed as three persons, it would be surprising to find no indications of that in the Old Testament. Although the doctrine of the Trinity is not explicitly found in the Old Testament, several passages suggest or even imply that God exists as more than one person.

For instance, according to Genesis 1:26, God said, "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." What do the plural verb ("let us") and the plural pronoun ("our") mean? Some have suggested they are plurals of majesty, a form of speech a king would use in saying, for example, "We are pleased to grant your request."1 However, in Old Testament Hebrew there are no other examples of a monarch using plural verbs or plural pronouns of himself in such a "plural of majesty," so this suggestion has no evidence to support it.2 Another suggestion is that God is here speaking to angels. But angels did not participate in the creation of man, nor was man created in the image and likeness of angels, so this suggestion is not convincing. The best explanation is that already in the first chapter of Genesis we have an indication of

1 1. Both Alexander the Great (in 152 b.c.) and King Demetrius (about 145 b.c.) refer to themselves in this way, for example, in the Septuagint text of 1 Macc. 10:19 and 11:31, but this is in Greek, not Hebrew, and it is written long after Genesis 1.

2 2. See E. Kautzsch, ed., Gesenius'Hebrew Grammar 2d ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1910), Section 124g, n. 2, with reference to the suggestion of a plural of majesty: "The plural used by God in Genesis 1:26, 11:7, Isaiah 6:8 has been incorrectly explained in this way." They understand Gen. 1:26 as "a plural of self-deliberation." My own extensive search of subsequent Jewish interpretation in the Babylonian Talmud, the targumim and the midrashim showed only that later Rabbinic interpreters were unable to reach agreement on any satisfactory interpretation of this passage, although the "plural of majesty" and "God speaking to angels" interpretations were commonly suggested.

a plurality of persons in God himself.3 We are not told how many persons, and we have nothing approaching a complete doctrine of the Trinity, but it is implied that more than one person is involved. The same can be said of Genesis 3:22 ("Behold, the man has become like one of us knowing good and evil"), Genesis 11:7 ("Come, let us go down, and there confuse their language"), and Isaiah 6:8 ("Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?"). (Note the combination of singular and plural in the same sentence in the last passage.)

Moreover, there are passages where one person is called "God" or "the Lord" and is distinguished from another person who is also said to be God. In Psalm 45:6-7 (NIV), the psalmist says, "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy." Here the psalm passes beyond describing anything that could be true of an earthly king and calls the king "God" (v. 6), whose throne will last "forever and ever." But then, still speaking to the person called "God," the author says that "God, your God, has set you above your companions" (v. 7). So two separate persons are called "God" (Heb. D'rfrK, H466). In the New Testament, the author of Hebrews quotes this passage and applies it to Christ: "Your throne, O God, is for ever and ever" (Heb. 1:8)4

Similarly, in Psalm 110:1, David says, "The Lord says to my lord: "Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet"' (NIV). Jesus rightly understands that David is referring to two separate persons as "Lord" (Matt. 22:4146), but who is David's "Lord" if not God himself ? And who could be saying to God,

3 3. "The plural "We' was regarded by the fathers and earlier theologians almost unanimously as indicative of the Trinity" [Keil and Delitzsch, Old Testament Commentaries (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, n.d.], 1:48, with objections to other positions and an affirmation that Gen. 1:26 contains "the truth that lies at the foundation of the Trinitarian view").

NIV niv—New International Version

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