Dr. Randy White
In my last post, I wrote about God’s preexistence. As if preexistence weren’t confusing enough, the Bible introduces the notion of the Trinity very early on. Even though the word “Trinity” isn’t used in the Bible, the Church uses this word as shorthand to denote the essential yet challenging aspect of God-in-three-persons.
Trinity in Genesis 1
The first verse of Genesis doesn’t reveal the Trinity’s “threeness,” but it does reveal its “many-ness:” “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1:1 is elohim. This is where some knowledge of ancient Hebrew will help deepen your understanding of the Bible.
As we add “s” to a word in English to pluralize it, the ancient Hebrews added im to make a noun plural. Technically, the first verse of Genesis should read, “In the beginning, Gods created . . . .” But Christians are not polytheistic. We do not worship multiple gods. Rather, we worship the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: one God in multiple persons. How can this be if it was really “Gods” that created everything?
Again, we have to return to how the Hebrew language was used. Unlike most English usage, Hebrew verbs can denote the number of subjects performing an action. (If you know Spanish, such usage isn’t surprising.) In other words, even though “Gods created,” the Hebrew word used for “created” is singular. So in Genesis 1:1, we have a plural noun connected to a singular verb, which is inherently bad grammar but sound Christian theology. In the very first verse of the Bible, we have a multi-person God performing in perfect unity.
Genesis 1:26 makes such usage clear to our modern-day English understanding: “And God said, Let us make man in our image.” Notice the singular subject, “God,” referring to Himself as “us” and “our.” Notice, too, that God doesn’t say “images” but rather just “image.” God exists in one image, but that image is comprised of plural persons.
God’s “More than One, in Oneness”
Later in the Scripture, we discover that the plurality of persons is limited to three–no less, no more. In Genesis 1, we can only deduce that God is a “more-than-one-in-oneness,” or what we might call a “singular plurality.” What matters in relation to God’s singular plurality is that God is consistently presented that way throughout the Bible:
- In John 10:30, Jesus says, “I and my Father are one.”
- In Matthew 28:19, Jesus commands his followers, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
- In 2 Corinthians 13:14, Paul prays for the Trinity to be with the Corinthian church: “The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, be with you all. Amen.”
- In 1 John 5:7, John makes clear the Trinity: “For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one.”
These are not the only verses that attest to God’s “more-than-one-in-oneness,” but they are among the most well-known. The fact remains that the Bible consistently presents God as a unity of existence with a plurality of persons, something that is difficult for our finite minds to grasp.
God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all exist as God, and none are the other. Collectively, they are God—one being, three persons: the Trinity.
What questions do you have about the Trinity?