The Relationship between God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit

Now, having established that there is only ONE God (part 3 of this series, long ago) but also that there are three persons who are shown to be this one God, we are faced with the question of how these three persons are 'related'.

There have been different 'models' and ideas for this in the course of (Christian) theology and the history of heresies.

It is worthwhile first to examine the false interpretations and identify their errors so that we narrow down the possibilities until only the genuinely Biblical understanding remains'.

The worst of these theories and most easily to dispel is the one of a 'development of God' who became the Son who became the Spirit. This heresy "solves" the problem of "3=1" by saying, that at all times there was only one person and God, who was originally "God the Father" then went on to incarnate himself and become God the Son and after death and resurrection goes back into a solely spiritual existence. But Jesus in his preaching was constantly talking about the Father and communicating with the Father in prayer. He talked not about the Father "who was" but the Father "who is (in heaven)". He even taught his followers this very prayer "Our Father who is in heaven. Hallowed be your name....". And today this 'explanation' of a "God who transforms" seems to be really dead and not defended anymore. I am not aware of any sect which teaches it. So let me go on to those which are more prominent even today.

I want to give a very short overview of the different ways of 'linking' Father, Son and Holy Spirit:

  • There are three independent gods [Tri-theism].
  • There is only one God in one person who appears and operates in three ways [Sabellianism].
  • There is only one Person who is God and Christ was his first CREATION [Arianism].
  • There is one Godhead existing in three Persons [Trinitarianism] [Biblical Christianity (my conviction and that of nearly all Christians)].

    A Trinitarian (whether Catholic or Orthodox or Protestant) believes that:

    The Father is God.
    The Son is God.
    The Holy Ghost is God.
    The Father is not the Son.
    The Father is not the Holy Ghost.
    The Son is not the Holy Ghost.
    But there is precisely one perfect and indivisible God,
    not three "Gods".

    On the other side, there are several different views, explained in a few more words than above. The main ones are:

  • Sabellian:
    The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost are all one and the same, just different names or different aspects or different ways of seeing God, but really the Father IS the Son and the Father IS the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost IS the Son. And all these three are names of the One God.

  • Arian (Jehovah's Witnesses, etc.):
    The Father is God. The Son and the Holy Ghost are not God, but creatures, albeit very good and holy creatures made by the Father, in very privileged positions, agreeing in all things with the Father. In a sense this is the nearest view to Islam of all of them.

  • Tritheite/polytheist (Mormons, New Age, ... ):
    The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Ghost is God. There are at least three different Gods.

  • Positive atheist:
    There is no Father, no Son, no Holy Ghost and no God.

    The atheist is in here just for completeness sake and since the existence of God is a given to Christians and Muslims alike, I am not going to bother with that one.

    We have seen in the earlier parts that Jesus and the Holy Spirit have the divine attributes. Attributes, characteristics, qualities which are not possible for even the highest created being and therefore they can only be God.

    Therefore, the Arian position is defeated by all that I have quoted before. We have established that the Bible teaches that Jesus is God and the Spirit is God. The position of Arius is not tenable.

    The Tri-theist position is contradicting the very clear statements of "there is only one God" which abound in scripture. Scripture does maintain the very clear distinction between the Creator and the created. The Mormon position, that we all are supposed to 'develop into little gods' is absolutely anti-Biblical. Scripture references can be given if needed. But this is not a position Muslims would accept and Christians don't hold it, so let us forget about this one too.

    The next couple of verses are addressing the last two alternatives. Is it one God who only "appears" in three different roles, like a man, who can be husband to his wife, father to his children and boss to his employees, or are these three really distinct persons?

    If Father, Son and Spirit were the same person, then all the talk of Jesus about the Father and the Spirit would be strange.

    Jesus talks about his love of the Father, about his obedience towards the Father, about the Father's love of the Son, ... He says in John 16:25-28

    "I will tell you plainly about my Father, ..., I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father."

    Jesus makes the clear distinction between the Father and himself. "The Father Himself" loves you... This kind of language would be nonsense if Jesus is the Father. Jesus is always with himself, he can not "leave himself" to come into the world and "go back to himself" by leaving the world. No, the Son is not the Father and the Father is not the Son. And shortly before this, Jesus says about the Spirit "I will ask the Father, and he will give you ANOTHER Counselor to be with you forever - the Spirit of Truth." John 14:16.

    So, the distinctness of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is very clear in Jesus word's.

    Let me give you one more category of scripture passages which confirms that God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equals, but not equal. And that should finally establish, that the real Trinitarian doctrine is the only one that brings together the Deity of all persons, the distinctiveness of the persons, but still maintaining that God is only one God.

    Recently I posed the question:

    "Would a Muslim be shocked about Allah (pbuh = peace be upon him)
    or Muhammad (swt = glory be to him)?"

    and got the expected answer:

    "The former would seem odd, since Allah SWT is the source of peace, and the latter would be blasphemous."

    And the Jewish and Christian understanding is exactly the same. No mere prophet, not even the greatest prophet before Jesus, Moses, ever got glory ascribed to him, or it is unheard of people blessing others by invoking the "peace of Moses" on them. Moses had just as much need for God's peace as every other human being. He has no peace of his own to dispense no others.

    In the light of this, look at the follwing statements by Jesus and about Jesus.

    John 14:27

    Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

    John 16:33

    I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.

    And as quoted already earlier, John 1:17

    For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

    Jesus himself says in John 14:6

    I am the way, the truth, and the life.

    He is not just pointing to the way, or the truth that is to be found in God only, no, Jesus IS the personification of truth, grace, peace, life, i.e. the personification of attributes ultimately only God posesses. He is the personification of God in the flesh. Ephesians 2 states

    12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,

    Look at this greeting:

    Grace and peace
    to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    This is the exact greeting in used in Romans 1:7, 1 Cor 1:3, 2 Cor 1:2, Gal 1:3, Eph. 1:2, Phil. 1:2, 2 Thess. 1:2, etc. [meaning: this was not a one time accident, but a normal/formal greeting]

    Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus clear the way for us to come to you. -- 1 Thessalonians 3:11

    May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. -- 2 Thessalonians 2:16,17

    Compare the two first lines of the two quotes of the letters to the Thessalonian Church and observe the complete parallelism and the switch in sequence of Father and Lord. Seemingly it is interchangeable and there is no 'ranking' as to who is higher and mentioned first. And they 'act together' in unity.

    In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead ... I will give you this charge:... -- 2 Timothy 4:1

    Both together are (equally) called upon in giving this solemn admonition.

    Also in Jesus' command to make the nations "followers of HIM" = disciples, he uses the strange combination:

    Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in(to) the name_ of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." -- Matthew 28:18-20

    Two observations: Jesus himself puts "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" together into one phrase. And, seemingly the three are not 'separate enough' to have three nameS but only one NAME. Literally it is baptizing INTO the name and comes from the picture that a slave who is bought by the new owner now carries his name, which means the authority of the one over me, whose name I bear. Baptizing means, I am now the servant of the one God [one name] who revealed himself to me as "Father, Son and Holy Spirit" and I submit myself to Him completely. And, he [Jesus] claims to have now ALL authority in heaven and on earth. Something only God can say of himself. Why 'given'? Because for the time of his earthly existence Jesus had laid aside all his heavenly glory and authority and lived the human life in full. Including assuming 'dependence' on God as every other human being. Now that this task is fulfilled, his original authority and glory is given back to him and he assumes again what he had before his incarnation.

    Another formula of blessing:

    May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God [the Father], and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. -- 2 Corinthians 13:14

    Now, what do all those passages where God, the Father, Jesus the Lord, and the Holy Spirit are mentioned in 'parallel' really mean?

    Would you be able to say: "May the peace of Allah and the mercy of Muhammad be with you!" ?? Why not? Because it is putting side by side what is not of equal status. It is belittling God, if His peace is "on the same level" as Muhammad's mercy. No human quality can be able to stand as equal of a divine quality.

    So, what does that mean for the above quoted verses? Though they do not explicitly _teach_ the Trinity, they would be totally inappropriate language and utterly blasphemous if the Trinity were _not_ assumed. But they are regular greetings or blessings of welcome and departure. And anything like it is never used for any of the other prophets of scripture. Only Jesus gets this honor. And this again is a clear sign that Jesus was considered equal to God from the very beginning [and he considered himself equal since he claims it for himself - to be the truth and the life etc. it is not the invention of his disciples.] Thus these greetings reflect that Father, Son and Holy Spirit were thought to be 'equals' in a way that does make it appropriate to mention them in this way together. If the Trinity were not assumed, it would be completely inappropriate and even blasphemous to use such greetings and they could not have become the regular greetings in the first years of early Church.

    And there are more passages in this regard: 1 John 1:3, 2 John 3, 2 Peter 1:2, 2 Peter 3:18, Philippians 1:2, Philemon 3, Jude 2,21 1 Timotheus 1:1-2, 2 Tim 1:2, Titus 1:4

    Based on those verses I presented and even many more, I think it is clear that the Bible teaches that there is one and only one God, but that this one Godhead reveals himself to exist as a loving community of three persons. The Bible does not even make an attempt to give a "systematic exposition" of the Trinity. It gives us the data and the community of believers meditated and studied the revelation and formed the "concept" or doctrine of the Trinity in order to clearly express what the Biblical revelation is saying. The Bible teaches it, the Church only has reflected on it and found clearer and clearer ways of expressing it and in the process of reflection on God's revelation the term "Trinity" as the most appropriate was born from this study of the Scriptures. The Bible itself is not giving the theory. It just presents this God, who is our creator and who is very much involved in our life and interested that we respond in love to him.

    Saying at the outset that the Trinity is a mystery and that we do better not even to try to understand it is not a Biblical approach. The word of God does exhort us to use our God-given ability to reason and we are to seek understanding. But the fact that God does not give us a worked theology of the Trinity might be an indication, that in the end the Trinity IS too big for our limited brain-power and though we can understand all this revelation in its different parts, the total concept is too big to be completely understood, and in this sense it will remain a mystery to us created beings.

    But God has in his word given us so much truth and shown that he is trustworthy, that on the basis of these evidences we can also accept that what he says about his own nature is true.

    And in the end, our relationship to God is very similar to a good loving marriage relationship. Our spouse will never be able to prove beyond the least doubt that he/she really loves us. We might have a lot of evidence for it, but proof is impossible, after all (s)he could just 'fake' it and only want us to believe it for whatever reason. And then, what about the very phenomenon of "love" itself? We can experience it, we can give and receive love, but I have yet to find even one person who is able to say, I "understand" what love really is. "Love" really is a mystery, it is "to be lived" more than "to be understood".

    That doesn't mean it is false, and it doesn't mean we cannot grow in our understanding of it as we gain experience of it and grow in it and also have our failures and hurts. But in the end, it will remain a mystery. And so will the Trinity of God. We can experience the way God meets us and loves us, but the nature of God himself will remain mysterious to us. Who would say "I am not going to accept any love before I exactly understand what love is!"? Why then would I say, "I am not going to even make a start at believing in God unless I totally understand who God is and what his essence is like."? The Apostle John writes "God is love". Will I refuse to experience the love of God in my life simply because I can not understand yet all that God is? I can know God and his love for me even if I neither fully comprehend what love is nor fully understand all characteristics of the nature of God.

    The Biblical definition of "Faith" is "entrusting myself to God" and believing that he will care for me. Yes, it also is about knowing propositional truth, but this is not enough. There is something like "dead correctness". Faith is about life and a living relationship to a God who wants us to understand him more and more out of a trusting and loving relationship with him.

    Let me share with you one last passage which goes back to the very beginning of all creation and revelation.

    I do not want to base the Trinity on the next verses that I am going to present, since there are a few conservative Christian scholars who think this would not be valid reasoning. But they do nevertheless believe the Trinity is a strong Biblical doctrine. And as we have seen, many verses substantiate this doctrine. But I wonder if these following ones are really of so little value in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. But see for yourself.

    Even in the very first chapter of the Bible, when we read the Creation story we can make some interesting observations:

    God says: "Let US make man in OUR image." - Who could He be talking about? God alone is the CREATOR, who else is creating there? Angels or any other beings are CREATED not creating ones and to this day have no 'creating power'. Our image (verse 26) - his own image (verse 27) in the next verse. Not the image of angels, the image of God.

    One God, but somehow plural. And if that alone doesn't convince you, have you ever thought about the next part? The part where this being created in his image is described? Somehow one person was not enough to represent God's image. God's image was created as a loving community in two persons, and two complementary persons at that - male and female with this strange urge to 'love' and serve each other and be a harmonious unity.

    And, on top of it all, each human being, in the image of God, is a 'trinity', a multiple unity of body, soul and spirit, while still remaining one person, one being, one entity.

    Do we want to 'demand' that God be 'less complex' than a human being who is "only" His image?

    We read in Genesis 1:

    25   God made the wild animals according to their kinds, 
                     the livestock according to their kinds, 
             and all the creatures that move along the ground 
                                   according to their kinds. 
         And God saw that it was good.
    26 Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground."
    27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

    28 God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground."

    And do you see the Hebrew poetic structure of emphasis, the parallelism in verse 27? There "in the image of God" corresponds to "male and female". Mankind is 'one', but God sees the need to make two different and complementary beings in order to adequately represent his image. Even taken in isolation, this verse is a strong pointer towards the plurality of the nature of the one God, which the rest of the scriptures can then be seen to support.

    Even if some Christian scholars disagree, why do I still think that this really is a valuable additional reference, even though the Trinity is amply demonstrated in the other scriptures?

    Because even the Jewish Rabbis have a very hard time to come to terms with this passage. Several Rabbis tried to advance various explanations as to 'explain away' this plural but they only have managed to show that it won't go away. Each subsequent Rabbi refutes the former ones and shows why their reasonings do not survive scrunity. But, maybe, as with so much, the concept of the Trinity might just be the solution to this problem too.

    Have a look at the Jewish Rabbis' struggles at: Rabbinic Interpretations.

    Isaiah 40:13-14:

    Who has understood the mind of the LORD, or instructed him as his counselor?
    Whom did the LORD consult to enlighten him, and who taught him the right way? Who was it that taught him knowledge or showed him the path of understanding?

    And the answer that is clearly is implied, is "Nobody". So, the "us" can not refer to anyone other than God. And even the Qur'an disagrees with the idea that the Lord took advice from the angels Sura 38:71-73]. The Lord only announces to the angels that he made man and now they have to prostrate before man. So again, only the Lord God is the Creator, just as the Bible says.

    THE END :-) [of this article, but hopefully the beginning for some of you in exploring more, asking and getting to know this mysterious triune God, who loves you so much, that he gave his one and only son for you to erase your sins forever and make possible again the relationship between Holy God and sinful people.]

    This explanation is a rather Protestant Christian one and I am a lay person, not a theologian.

    If you want to see a Protestant theologian explain it, and also a Jewish approach to the Trinity, please see some other articles on the Trinity on the world wide web (1, 2, 3)

    Another article by a Christian, showing similarities and differences in the Christian and Islamic concept of the Oneness of God:

    Tawhid: Belief in One God

    I hope now, as I am through with my presentation of the case FOR the Trinity, you will be able to say that you can understand WHY I believe in the Trinity. At least I hope, you can say, 'given this approach of interpretation of scripture', the Trinity is a doctrine that is reflecting amply documented Biblical data.

    The main problem of communication between the pro and the contra side on many a topic is NOT that one side takes the Bible as it is and the other side is twisting it, or not accepting its authority, but it is the question of 'hermeneutics'. The problem is: What is the correct way of interpreting a given text. And if we have seemingly contradictory statements, which ones do we choose to make our 'main' reference which will then 'qualify' the others as less important and which ones are therefore 'special cases' of limited authority and 'abrogated' within the Bible itself if you want to use 'Islamic' language. I think that there are many topics [like whether women should be allowed to preach, which is an especially notorious one] which are really problems of hermeneutics and we might never solve this question to the satisfaction of all Christians. However, the Trinity is [in my and most every Christians opinion] not one of hermeneutics. It is very clear in all the Scriptures. But there are some who I am not really willing to say of that they are not Christians and who hold a basically Arian view. I think it is misrepresenting the clear claims of Scripture, but we have to be patient and give everyone time to 'grow into understanding'. It was not clear even to the first disciples at first, but a process of clarification under the guidance of the Holy Spirit as Jesus promised: "I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all truth." John 16:12-13. I think that the "clarification" of the doctrine of the Trinity is one work of the Holy Spirit, that was mainly done after the Ascension of Jesus to the Father. Nothing new has been "invented" by the Church. It is all reflection and meditation on the already revealed scripture under the illumination of the Holy Spirit, who was guiding the early Christians and still guides today those who have received the Holy Spirit as the promised gift from the Father, by submitting to the lordship of Jesus Christ. Just as it was the work of the Spirit to make plain the doctrine of the Trinity to the early Church, so it has to be the work of the Spirit in me and you today to lead us into this same understanding of the deep truths of God's revelation given to us in His word the Bible.

    Jesus once said to some theologians who were only living in the past and who had no relationship to the living God, that "God is a God of the living, not of the dead". And though the context is different, it also means, God is alive today and is leading today those who follow Him. He is constantly revealing his eternal truths to us in a deeper and deeper way as we follow his leading as we search for truth in his word.

    As Jesus said, "Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old." [Matthew 13:52]

    For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding. -- Proverbs 2:6

    I hope these elaborations could be of some help to you in order to understand better why Christians believe in the Trinity and what they believe the Trinity to be.

    Warm regards,


    P.S.: Some years ago, I read an article on the Trinity, which made a lot of sense, but since I do not have access to it currently I don't want to go into it here. The author was explaining the Trinity as an 'experiential' doctrine. Though I think (even more after doing this paper) that the Trinity is well documented in the Bible, it is not elaborated on logically/philosophically anywhere in one compact passage of text. In a sense, the Trinity is not an 'abstract' theological theory, but an experiential doctrine which becomes more and more 'obvious' as we grow in our relationship with God and gain more and more experience of how God works in our life and how He meets us in different 'roles' (And I do NOT suggest the modalistic/Sabellian theory here) as God the Father who so much loves us that He gives His most precious gift, His Son to save us. As God the Son who has this same love to us and to His Father that He obeys and becomes a human being, laying aside all His heavenly glory, comes near to reveal God to us as never before and even sacrifices himself as to free us from the bondage of sin and the resulting death. And last but not least as God the Spirit, who enables us to live new lives as children of God, who illumines us to understand more and more of who God is and gives us the strength to live lives that are pleasing to Him, who is 'applying the riches of God's word to your life' and makes us vessels which are useful for service to Him.

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