The persons of the Trinity: distinct, not separate
This is the 12th in a series of articles on the Trinity, excerpted from “What Every Christian Should Know About the Trinity,” available by contacting the MBC or through Amazon and other booksellers.
In the previous column, we examined the personhood of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While the three persons of the Godhead are distinct, they cannot be separated. That is, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal. They exist simultaneously, not consecutively.
So, let’s summarize this essential truth, drawing from Scripture:
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are present together at Jesus’ baptism (Matt. 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-23).
In the Great Commission, Jesus sends His followers to make disciples in “the name [singular] of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit …” (Matt. 28:19-20).
The three persons of the Godhead work together to grant spiritual gifts to followers of Jesus: “Now there are different gifts, but the same Spirit. There are different ministries, but the same Lord [Jesus]. And there are different activities, but the same God [Father] produces each gift in each person. A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person for the common good” (1 Cor. 12:4-7).
The members of the Trinity are engaged together in the sealing of Christ’s followers: “Now it is God [the Father] who strengthens us together with you in Christ, and who has anointed us. He has also put his seal on us and given us the Spirit in our hearts as a down payment” (2 Cor. 1:21-22).
Paul closes his second letter to the Corinthians with a Trinitarian benediction: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all” (2 Cor. 13:13).
The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit cooperate for our salvation: “When the time came to completion, God [the Father] sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God [the Father] sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’” (Gal. 4:4-6).
Christian unity is centered on the Trinity: “There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to one hope at your calling – one Lord [Jesus], one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6).
While additional Trinitarian passages could be cited, the passages above offer abundant evidence that the three persons of the Godhead are divine, personal, co-equal, and co-eternal.
A Trinitarian matrix
In Reordering the Trinity, Rodrick Durst catalogues a treasure trove of Trinitarian references in the New Testament – 75 in all. Each one of the six possible groupings – Father-Son-Spirit; Father-Spirit-Son; Son-Father-Spirit; Son-Spirit-Father; Spirit-Son-Father; Spirit-Father-Son – appears multiple times in 19 of the 27 New Testament books. James is the only New Testament author whose writings do not feature at least one Trinitarian reference.
Durst writes, “My research shows that the quantity of divine triadic instances is so profound and in such diversity of orders that it constitutes a qualitative matrix of Trinitarian consciousness. Trinity is how the New Testament authors inadvertently thought and viewed reality…. such a profound and generous distribution of triadic references demonstrates that the Trinitarian way of praying, communing, thinking, and teaching was a part of Christianity from its start.”
That is not to say the Old Testament offers no evidence of a Trinitarian matrix. For example, in Genesis 1:1-3 we see Elohim (God) creating, with the Spirit (ruach) hovering until God speaks, and with His word (Jesus) creation comes into being. Other examples are found in Isaiah 11:1-3; 42:1; 48:16; 61:1; and Ezekiel 37.
These threefold ways of differentiating the presence of Yahweh throughout the Old Testament are not explicit proofs of the Trinity. Yet, as Durst concludes, they “constitute a theological mode of thought for Jesus and the writers of the New Testament.”
As we read through Scripture, it becomes evident that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are divine, personal, and eternally relational. The deity and personality of the three persons of the Godhead are truths all Christians should embrace.
These truths give us more than a picture of Yahweh; they provide comfort, strength, and hope as we walk the path of good works God paved for us in eternity past (Eph. 2:10). Though we must navigate a sinful and fallen world, the triune God promises to one day set things right.
Next: The Father is God