By Tim Sullivan

Recently I was asked a question by a friend who is a pastor and church leader in rural Nepal. "Can you explain an easy way to understand how three Gods are in one, and God is the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost?" This message is my attempt to give an answer.

I begin with the acknowledgment that the word trinity does not appear in the Scriptures. But this alone does not disqualify the concept. The word Bible does not appear in the Scriptures either.

During my first 16 years as a Christian, I did not believe in the Trinity or that Jesus is God. The church I belonged to condemned those ideas and I believed its claim to expertise in biblical research. That is one of the great dangers of giving allegiance to a church organization. A person makes concessions in order to remain a member. All those years I read my Bible faithfully, but I only saw things as I was trained to see them. This is also why 16 years passed after I became a Christian before I was baptized in water. I know firsthand that a Christian can be sincere, dedicated, self-sacrificing, and deluded all at the same time.

Understanding the Godhead begins with knowing there is only one almighty God.

Deuteronomy 6:4:
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD:

The difficult (and controversial) part comes in understanding the three-in-one aspect of the Godhead. Some people jump to the conclusion that Trinitarians worship three gods. But as the famous hymn "Holy, Holy, Holy!" celebrates, the "blessed Trinity" is "God in three persons."

These Three Are One

The phrase "these three are one" is found in 1 John:

1 John 5:7-8:
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

Spirit, water, and blood are not identical and neither are the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost. They are distinctly three and yet they come together as one.

This is not an isolated concept in the Bible. When the Pharaoh asked Joseph to interpret his dreams, Joseph said, "The dream of Pharaoh is one: God hath shewed Pharaoh what he is about to do" (Gen. 41:25). The Pharaoh's two different dreams foretold the same event. In John 10:30, Jesus said, "I and my Father are one." A person could argue that Jesus and his Father are in fact two – the Son and the Father – but that would constitute the kind of dispute that Christians should avoid.

2 Timothy 2:23:
23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes.

Jesus prayed that all who believe "may be one, even as we [the Father and the Son] are one" (John 17:22). In describing the bread of communion, Paul said, "For we being many are one bread, and one body" (1 Cor. 10:17). That is a lot more than three-in-one!

The Johannine Comma

The passage of 1 John 5:7-8 is not free from controversy. Many scholars feel that “the Johannine Comma” (as the middle passage is called) should not be included in the Bible. In their Greek manuscript of choice, the entire middle section (shown crossed out below) does not appear.

1 John 5:7-8:
7 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.
8 And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

The New International Version is one of many Bible versions that subscribe to this point of view:

1 John 5:7-8 [NIB]:
7 For there are three that testify:
8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement.

The question is, was "the Johannine Comma" added to some manuscripts or was it left out in others? The renown commentator Matthew Henry (b. 1662, d. 1714) is one of many who believe that the scholars who put compiled the KJV made the correct decision:

“It was far more easy for a transcriber, by turning away his eye, or by the obscurity of the copy … to lose and omit the passage, than for an interpolator to devise and insert it; he must be very bold and impudent, that could hope to escape detection and shame, and profane too, that durst venture to make an addition to a supposed sacred book."

The age of the manuscript is irrelevant. It is a faulty argument that the oldest manuscripts are the most accurate. In the days of the scribes, the manuscripts that were considered "best" were copied and the originals were destroyed. The manuscripts that were judged inferior were not copied (of course) and thus left intact.

When all is said and done, even what remains in the amputated version [sic] is sufficient to make the point. "These three agree in one."

Matthew 28:19

The Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 expresses the Holy Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost:

Matthew 28:19:
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:

But this is another verse that some scholars object to. They contend that this "trinitarian formula" was added centuries after it was written, and that the verse should read, "baptizing them in the name of Jesus Christ" to agree with Acts 2:38, 8:12, and 8:16. However in this case there is no Greek manuscript to point to. Not one word is italicized. (The italicized words in the KJV show where the scholars added words to clarify the translation.) The naysayers support their argument with quotations from "The Gospel of Eusebius" and "The Hebrew Gospel of Matthew." The validity of those writings seems secondary to the fact that they support their point of view.

The Father, Son and Holy Ghost in Scripture

For the sake of argument, 1 John 5:7-8 and Matthew 28:19 can be set to the side. There are other places where the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost appear together in Scripture:

2 Corinthians 13:14:
14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.

1 Peter 1:2:
2 Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ: Grace unto you, and peace, be multiplied.

1 Corinthians 12:4-6:
4 Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit.
5 And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord.
6 And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all.

Ephesians 2:18:
18 For through him [Jesus] we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.

Perhaps the greatest example of the three-fold nature of the Godhead is evidenced in Christ's baptism. The Son was in the water, the Holy Ghost appeared in the form of a dove, and the Father spoke as a voice from heaven.

Luke 3:21-22:
21 Now when all the people were baptized, it came to pass, that Jesus also being baptized, and praying, the heaven was opened,
22 And the Holy Ghost descended in a bodily shape like a dove upon him, and a voice came from heaven, which said, Thou art my beloved Son; in thee I am well pleased.

The Shield of the Trinity


The pictures to the left are depictions of the Shield of the Trinity, a traditional symbol used to illustrate the three persons of the Godhead. God is the Father, God is the Son, and God is the Holy Spirit. Each one is a manifestation of God. But the Father is NOT the Son, the Son is NOT the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is NOT the Father. Arguments such as "If Jesus is God, who was he praying to?" challenge a false supposition. The Son prayed to the Father.

The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are components of the totality of God. God is in each of these parts, and yet he is more. He is the sum of all these parts. He is the Lord God Almighty.


God the Father

Being father of those who believe is only one of God’s personas. In fact, God is called “father” less than twenty times in the entire Old Testament. He is father to a nation, to certain individuals, and in allegory.

The LORD is the father of the nation of Israel, whom he calls his firstborn:

Exodus 4:22b:
22 . . . Thus saith the LORD, Israel is my son, even my firstborn:

Isaiah 63:16b:
16 . . . thou, O LORD, art our father, our redeemer; thy name is from everlasting.

He refers to himself as the father of David and of Solomon:

2 Samuel 7:14:
14 I will be his father, and he shall be my son. If he commit iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men, and with the stripes of the children of men:

1 Chronicles 28:6
6 And he said unto me, Solomon thy son, he shall build my house and my courts: for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father.

The Bible uses the imagery of a father to describe his devotion to his people.

Psalm 103:13:
13 Like as a father pitieth his children, so the LORD pitieth them that fear him.

Psalm 68:5:
5 A father of the fatherless, and a judge of the widows, is God in his holy habitation.

It was not until the times of the Lord's ministry on earth that believers learned to address God as their heavenly Father:

Matthew 6:
9 After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

God the Son

The Word has been of God and with God since the very beginning (John 1:1). The Word became flesh in the person of Jesus, the only begotten Son of God. The "days of his flesh" (Heb. 5:7) were about thirty-three. When his mission on earth was finished, he ascended to sit at the right hand of the Father.

Hebrews 1:1-3:
1 God, who at sundry times and in divers manners spake in time past unto the fathers by the prophets,
2 Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son, whom he hath appointed heir of all things, by whom also he made the worlds;
3 Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by the word of his power, when he had by himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high;

The phrase "God the Son" is not used in the Scriptures. But the Word is God, and while he was on earth, Jesus was the Word made flesh. Jesus was God manifest in the flesh.

1 Timothy 3:16:
16 And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.

Jesus is "the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature" (Col. 1:15). The only begotten Son is the visible face of the invisible God. The Son is not the Father. The Son declares the Father.

John 1:18:
18 No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.

John 14:9:
9 Jesus saith unto him, Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip? he that hath seen me hath seen the Father; and how sayest thou then, Shew us the Father?

The Son was given the name of his Father.

Isaiah 9:6:
6 For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.

The Father addresses his Son as "O God."

Hebrews 1:8-9:
8 But unto the Son he saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of thy kingdom.
9 Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, even thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.

Jesus was not a man exalted to the position of God. Jesus was God reduced to a man, confined to the limitations of the flesh in body and mind. But the man of Galilee was not the fullness of all who Jesus was and is. Jesus spent about 33 years in the flesh. That is all. "Though we have known Christ after the flesh, yet now henceforth know we him no more" (2 Cor. 5:16).

God the Holy Spirit

There can be no doubt that the Holy Ghost is the Spirit of God.

1 Corinthians 12:3:
3 Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.

But the Holy Spirit is not the Father. The Holy Spirit “proceedeth from the Father.”

John 15:26:
26 But when the Comforter is come, whom I will send unto you from the Father, even the Spirit of truth, which proceedeth from the Father, he shall testify of me:

The Holy Spirit is "sent down from heaven."

1 Peter 1:12:
12 Unto whom it was revealed, that not unto themselves, but unto us they did minister the things, which are now reported unto you by them that have preached the gospel unto you with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into.

Jesus spoke of the Holy Spirit as a person, not a thing, with a unique duty to administer.

John 14:26:
26 But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.

Trying to separate the three persons of the Trinity is like trying to separate fire from heat or water from wetness. There is one God who is manifested in three ways. He is God the Father. He is God the Son. He is God the Holy Spirit. "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, which was, and is, and is to come" (Rev. 4:8).


January 8, 2017 in Baton Rouge