“Blessed be the Holy Trinity and the undivided Unity. Let us give glory to Him because He has shown His mercy to us.”
X Antiphon for the Introit on Holy Trinity Sunday X
Holy Trinity Sunday will be celebrated on June 4 this year. With this in mind, we ask and answer the question, “Where does the Bible teach the Trinity?” I could have included many more passages, but this should serve as a starting point...
MATTHEW 28 -- JESUS REVEALS THE TRIUNE NAME OF GOD
God teaches us that He is the Holy Trinity, three distinct Persons in one divine Being. Though you do not need a Bible on hand as you go through this column, you will benefit more from it if you do have a Bible handy. “Jesus came and said to [the eleven apostles], ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age’ ” (Matthew 28:18-20).
Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, once dead but now resurrected and immortal, is the One who reveals who God is to the world. You can’t know God apart from Jesus (John 14:6). As one of my professors put it, “Talking about God without reference to Jesus is idolatry.” So Christ’s words recorded in Matthew 28 must be the starting point for our discussion of the Holy Trinity. Without them, we would not know God as the Trinity, nor would we know what words to use at Baptisms.
The grammar of this passage is important. Note that verse 19 says the Church is to baptize into one name (singular, the one true God), not more than one name (plural, as if there were multiple gods). At the same time, that one name of God is identified as three Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Here we have a case where 3=1. You can’t work this out mathematically. It just doesn’t compute. Logicians will tell you that such an equation is impossible. Based on human, finite wisdom, they are right. But Jesus teaches it, and He has the authority to reveal this because of His status as the Resurrected One (Matthew 28:18). Since He “was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead” (Romans 1:4), He is the only Person who has the final say on how things really are—both things in heaven and on earth. To Him, then, we listen.
THE TRINITY IN THE OLD TESTAMENT
Since Jesus has revealed God as Triune (“tri” = three, “une” = one), we’re now able to pick up lots of clues from the Old Testament that God has always been Triune and always will be. (By the way, there was never any question in the Old or New Testament that God is One; see, for example, Deuteronomy 6:4 and 1 Corinthians 8:4.)
We’ll start at the beginning (literally): “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. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1:1-3).
Ancient Christian writers, the Lutheran reformers, and Christian theologians ever since have recognized that the Holy Trinity is referred to in Genesis 1. First we learn that God created the heaven and the earth. Generally speaking, in the Scriptures the title “God” refers to the Father, the First Person of the Trinity. This general observation should not give the impression that the Son and the Holy Spirit are not God, or that the Persons of the Trinity work independently of each other. Their works in the world are always performed based on complete unity of will. All three Persons were active in creation and our salvation, with each performing distinct and necessary roles!
Next we learn that the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters (Genesis 1:2), the Third Person of the Trinity. So where is the Son of God, the Second Person of the Trinity, at the creation? We find the key clue in the Gospel of John. John 1:1 uses the same Greek words for “in the beginning” that the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) uses in Genesis 1:1. John does this intentionally to make his readers recall the Creation account. Yet instead of saying “In the beginning God created the Word,” John writes, “In the beginning was the Word.” This means the Word was already in existence at the time of the creation of the world. In fact, the Word was God and was the creator of all things (John 1:3). Who is this Word? He is clearly the eternal Son of God, begotten (not created!) of the Father from eternity, who later in time “became flesh and dwelled among us” (John 1:14).
Therefore, when God said, “Let there be light,” the Word was there, the eternal Son of God. Not only is He the Word, but He is the true “light of the world” who came to give His followers the “light of life” (John 8:12), that is, eternal life through faith in Him. It is also worth noting that the Hebrew word for spirit means “wind” or “breath.” Words are formed from breath, therefore creating a unity between God the speaker (the Father), the Word by which He created the world (the Son), and the (Holy) Spirit.
In summary, we see the Persons of the Trinity already at work at the beginning of creation. Numerous other passages in the Old Testament speak of the work of the Persons of the Trinity while constantly maintaining the Unity of God—that is, God is One.
THE TRINITY REVEALED IN THE MINISTRY OF JESUS
“Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased’ ” (Luke 3:21-22).
In this scene we have a revelation of two great mysteries: the Trinity and the Incarnation. God reveals Himself as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and Jesus is revealed as both true God and true Man. This flesh and blood man in the river Jordan is identified by the voice of His Father: “You are My beloved Son” and the Holy Spirit lights on the Son in the form of a dove.
Throughout the Gospels, we see the ongoing significance of the Trinitarian revelation at Jesus’ Baptism. In Luke 4:18, Jesus quotes a Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed Me to proclaim good news to the poor.” As Jesus proclaims Isaiah 61, He identifies the Holy Trinity: “the (Holy) Spirit of the Lord (Father) is upon Me (the Son).” This statement points back to His Baptism by John in the Jordan, when the Spirit came upon Jesus, sent from the Father. Jesus’ anointing with the Spirit also is mentioned in Acts 10:38, which says that “God (the Father) anointed Jesus of Nazareth (the Son) with the Holy Spirit and with power.”
A passage that brings together the work of the Persons of the Trinity in saving us is Hebrews 9:13-14: “For if the sprinkling of defiled persons with the blood of goats and bulls and with the ashes of a heifer sanctifies for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.” The Holy Spirit, whom Jesus had received in His Baptism, assisted Him in His sacrificial death on the cross, which appeased the wrath of God the Father against our sin. Now through the cleansing blood of Christ (God the Son), which is distributed by God the Holy Spirit in the Word, Absolution, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, our consciences are purified of our sins (dead works) so that we may now serve the living God (the Holy Trinity) through prayer, praise, and thanksgiving in the Divine Service of the Church and through works of service to one another in our daily callings.
Prayer: Almighty and Everlasting God, You have given us grace to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity by the confession of a true faith and to worship the Unity in the power of the Divine Majesty. Keep us steadfast in this faith and defend us from all adversities; for You, O Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, live and reign, one God, now and forever. (Collect for Holy Trinity Sunday)