What Is the Trinity?

Definition of Trinity

Trinity Triquetra
Photo Credit: Images © Sue Chastain

The word "Trinity" comes from the Latin noun "trinitas" meaning "three are one." It was first introduced by Tertullian at the end of the 2nd century but received wide acceptance in the 4th and 5th centuries.

The Trinity expresses the belief that God is one being made up of three distinct persons who exist in co-equal essence and co-eternal communion as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The doctrine or concept of the Trinity is central to most Christian denominations and faith groups, although not all.

Among churches that reject the doctrine of the Trinity are The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Jehovah's Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarians, the Unification Church, the Christadelphians, Oneness Pentecostals and others.

The Expression of the Trinity in Scripture

Although the term "Trinity" is not found in the Bible, most Bible scholars agree that its meaning is clearly expressed. All through the Bible, God is presented as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He is not three gods, but three persons in the one and only God.

Tyndale Bible Dictionary states: "The Scriptures present the Father as the source of creation, the giver of life, and God of all the universe. The Son is depicted as the image of the invisible God, the exact representation of his being and nature, and the Messiah-Redeemer. The Spirit is God in action, God reaching people—influencing them, regenerating them, infilling them, and guiding them.

All three are a tri-unity, inhabiting one another and working together to accomplish the divine design in the universe."

Here are some key verses expressing the concept of the Trinity:

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 ... (Matthew 28:19, ESV)

[Jesus said,] "But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me." (John 15:26, ESV)

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14, ESV)

The nature of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit can be seen clearly at these two major events in the Gospels:

  • The Baptism of Jesus - Jesus came to John the Baptist to be baptized. As Jesus rose up out of the water, heaven opened, and the Spirit of God, like a dove, descended upon him. Witnesses to the baptism heard a voice from heaven saying, "This is my son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." The Father clearly announced Jesus’ identity, and the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus, empowering him to begin his ministry.
  • The Transfiguration of Jesus - Jesus took Peter, James, and John to the top of a mountain to pray, but the three disciples fell asleep. When they awoke, they were astonished to see Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah. Jesus was transformed. His face shone like the sun, and his clothing dazzled. Then a voice from heaven said: "This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him." At the time, the disciples did not fully understand the event, but today readers of the Bible can clearly see God the Father directly and powerfully linked to Jesus in this account.

More Bible Verses Expressing the Trinity

Genesis 1:26, Genesis 3:22, Deuteronomy 6:4, Matthew 3:16-17, John 1:18, John 10:30, John 14:16-17, John 17:11 and 21, 1 Corinthians 12:4–6, 2 Corinthians 13:14, Acts 2:32-33, Galatians 4:6, Ephesians 4:4–6, 1 Peter 1:2.

Symbols of the Trinity

  • Trinity (Borromean Rings) - Learn about the Borromean rings, three interlocking circles that symbolize the trinity.
  • Trinity (Triquetra) - Learn about the triquetra, a three-part interlocking fish symbol symbolizing the trinity.