What Does the Bible Say About the Trinity?

Kevin Zuber
header for What Does the Bible Say About the Trinity?

The Bible never uses the word “trinity,” but the Scriptures are full of references to the three persons of God. Let’s look at some Bible verses that shed light on the trinitarian nature of God.

The Scriptures are clear that there are three (persons) who may rightly be called God. Paul’s assertion that “there is but one God” establishes his belief in the one God based on the monotheism of the Old Testament. His reference to “the Father” is not meant to say this one God is the Father only, but that “the Father” is God. Other passages indicate that “the Son” is God and yet other passages indicate that “the Spirit” is God. This is not to suggest that there are three gods (i.e., tritheism) but that each one of the persons may rightly be called God. At the same time, the three are not merely three different names of the one God, as if there are times when the one God is called “Father,” and at other times He is called “the Son,” and yet other times He is called “the Holy Spirit” (i.e., modalism). The Scriptures reveal that there is one God (substance, essence; Greek ousia) in three persons (subsistence; Greek hypostasis).

Summary: While the term “Trinity” is not used in the Bible, the Scriptures clearly reveal that there is one God, and just as clearly, they speak of three who may be rightly called God, and the three each have the characteristics of personhood. The Father, the Son, and the Spirit each possess knowledge, show emotion, demonstrate will. The creedal statement—one God in three persons—is an accurate summary of what the Bible says about the one God who is the Father, the Son, and the Spirit. In short, the doctrine of the Trinity is not imposed upon the texts of Scripture but emerges from what the Scriptures reveal about the one God and the three, who are distinct persons who deserve to be called God.

We teach that there is but one living and true God (Deut. 6:4; Isa. 45:5–7; 1 Cor. 8:4), an infinite, all-knowing Spirit (John 4:24), perfect in all His attributes, one in essence, eternally existing in three Persons—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (Matt. 28:19; 2 Cor. 13:14)—each equally deserving worship and obedience.[1]

Indications in the Old Testament

There are no texts in the Old Testament that explicitly teach the Trinity. There are texts that can be seen as indications of, and which are in harmony with, the doctrine of the Trinity.

Indications of a Plurality in God

Genesis 1:26a
Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness.”

Genesis 3:22a
Then the Lord God said, “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.”

Isaiah 6:8a
Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?”

In Genesis 1:26 God is speaking and the Hebrew text uses a first-person plural verb to describe that speaking, in the expression “Let Us make.” Also, God uses a plural pronoun “Our” when He refers to the “image” in which He is making man. Again, in Genesis 11:7 God uses a first-person plural verb: “let Us go down.” In both Genesis 3:22 and Isaiah 6:8 God uses a plural pronoun (“Us”) to refer to Himself. As noted in the name “Elohim,” these plurals may be indications of majesty and intensity, but with the clearer revelation of the Trinity given in the New Testament these texts seem to reveal a divine acknowledgment of His actual plurality.

Indications in Messianic Prophecy

Isaiah 61:1a
The Spirit of the Lord god is upon me,
Because the Lord has anointed me.

In this text the Messiah is speaking. (This text was read by Jesus in the synagogue at Nazareth. On that occasion He affirmed that the prophecy was fulfilled in His ministry [see Luke 4:16–21].) The Messiah is describing His empowerment by the Spirit and His commission by Yahweh. In this text He makes reference to the Lord (Yahweh) and to the Spirit of the Lord (Yahweh) in such a way that these titles may be understood to refer to two distinct entities, both of which are identified by the name Yahweh. If the Messiah is still speaking through verse 8 (“For I, the Lord (Yahweh), love justice”), then He identifies Himself by the name Yahweh. Again, this is an indication of a plurality in God and prepares for the full revelation of the Trinity in the New Testament.

Indications in the New Testament

Three Names

Matthew 28:19
“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.”

2 Corinthians 13:14
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, be with you all.”

The references in Scripture to the names (Father, Son, Holy Spirit) and the separate identities indicated (God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit) within one verse is significant. These are indications that each name stands for a distinct person and each identity belongs to a distinct person. Consequently, this is indicative of the reality of the Trinity. In these texts the Trinity is not something that is being argued, rather it is simply assumed. These are the kind of texts that were studied and debated by the scholars and bishops of the church in the second through the fourth centuries and those debates led to the orthodox creeds of the church. What the church later succinctly articulated in creeds (such as the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed AD 381) is squarely-based on what the church read in the New Testament. In other words, the Trinity was not invented by the framers of the creeds, but it was discerned by them to be the teaching of Scripture.

[1] John MacArthur and Richard Mayhue, eds., Biblical Doctrine: A Systematic Summary of Bible Truth (Wheaton, IL; Crossway, 2017), 345. Emphasis added.

For Further Reading:

The Essential Scriptures

by Kevin Zuber

Which Bible verses support that doctrine? All good theology is grounded in the Word of God. Yet sometimes it’s hard to keep track of...

book cover for The Essential Scriptures