Question #3 – How many persons are there in God?
There are three persons in the one true and living God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are the same in substance, equal in power and glory.
One of the most distinct and confusing doctrines of Christianity is the Trinity. Those who are new to the Christian faith or are outside the Christian faith may find the doctrine complex. How are we monotheists (believing in one God) while also believing in the Trinity (three persons in one God)? In order to fully understand the distinction, a helpful diagram has been drawn:
There are six fundamental truths that are communicated in this simple diagram that are crucial to the doctrine of the Trinity:
- The Father is God
- The Son is God
- The Holy Spirit is God
- The Father is not the Son nor the Spirit
- The Son is not the Father nor the Spirit
- The Spirit is not the Son nor the Father
How then do we believe in three persons but only one God? Through the language of substance, meaning that they share the same divinity. They are entirely equal in power, glory, and dominion, yet distinct in their roles and how they execute such substance. In one way, you can speak of the Trinity as three persons, meaning that each person of the Trinity plays a different role in the history of redemption. In another way, it is impossible to speak about God without speaking about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. This is essentially who God is. The four affirmations from the ESV Study Bible summarize it well:
- There is one and only one true and living God.
- This one God eternally exists in three persons—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
- These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
- While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical. The differences among Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and the role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose.
Rather than being an insignificant doctrine, church history would prove that the doctrine of the Trinity stands as one of the fundamental pillars of the faith. Early debates and controversies almost always surrounded the Trinity, which was clarified more fully as time progressed in the early church. For years, Jews regarded Yahweh as kurios (Greek for Lord, a translation of the Hebrew name of Yahweh), but now Jesus arrives and is declared as kurios. Early Christians had to wrestle with the identification with Jesus as Lord alongside Yahweh of the Old Testament.
Early Christians then debated on how to understand the relationship between the Father, Son, and Spirit. In the 4th century, debates surrounded whether or not Jesus was homousias or homoiuasis. For the uninformed, the two look identical but the difference is significant. The former conveying that Jesus is fully divine, of the same substance with God, while the latter affirming that Jesus is in someway supernatural, but in no way divine. The Holy Spirit was later defined as divine in the latter half of the 4th century at the Council of Constantinople.
The Trinity and the Christian Life
While the doctrine of the Trinity can become heady and stuffy, we should not detract its importance away from the Christian life. What then is the practical significance of the Trinity in the life of the Christian?
- God is a Triune God, meaning that He has existed in relationship for eternity. This forms the basis of our relational need, as we have been made to reflect and image a relational God.
- The Trinity serves as the foundation for further theological implications. For example, how would we know what it means to be adopted by God if He were not a Father?
- The Trinity brings comfort as each member of the Trinity ministers and intercedes in different ways.