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God Is Three Persons: The Tri-Unity Of God
Equal in Essence, Distinct in Function
As the nature of God is progressively revealed in Scripture, the one God is seen to exist eternally in three persons. These three persons share the same divine nature yet are different in role and relationship. The basic principle at the heart of God’s triune being is unity and distinction, both coexisting without either being compromised. Anything that is necessarily true of God is true of Father, Son, and Spirit. They are equal in essence yet distinct in function.
Old Testament Hints
The doctrine of the Trinity is most fully realized in the NT where the divine Father, Son, and Spirit are seen accomplishing redemption. But while the NT gives the clearest picture of the Trinity, there are hints within the OT of what is yet to come. In the beginning of the Bible, the Spirit of God is “hovering over the face of the waters” at creation (Gen. 1:2) and is elsewhere described as a personal being, possessing the attributes of God and yet distinct from Yahweh (Isa. 48:16; 61:1; 63:10). Some interpreters think that the plurality within God is seen in the Hebrew word for God, ’Elohim, which is plural in form (though others disagree that this is significant; the word is used with singular verbs and all agree that it has a singular meaning in the OT). In addition, the use of plural pronouns when God refers to himself hints at a plurality of persons: “Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image’” (Gen. 1:27; cf. Gen. 3:22; 11:7; Isa. 6:8). The plurality of God also seems to be indicated when the Angel of the Lord appears in the OT as one who represents Yahweh, while yet at times this angel seems to be no different in attributes or actions from God himself (cf. Gen. 16:7, 10–11, 13; 18:1–33; Ex. 3:1–4:31; 32:20–22; Num. 22:35, 38; Judg. 2:1–2; 6:11–18). There are also passages in the OT that call two persons God or Lord: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness above your companions” (Ps. 45:6–7). David says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool’ ” (Ps. 110:1). The God who is set above his companions (Ps. 45:6) and the Lord of Psalm 110:1 are recognized as Christ in the NT (Heb. 1:8, 13). Christ himself applies Psalm 110:1 to himself (Matt. 22:41–46). Other passages give divine status to a messianic figure distinct from Yahweh (Prov. 8:22–31; 30:4; Dan. 7:13–14).
Fully Revealed in the New Testament
The OT glimpses of God’s plurality blossom into the full picture of the Trinity in the NT, where the deity and distinct personalities of Father, Son, and Spirit function together in perfect unity and equality (on the deity of Christ and the Holy Spirit, see pp. 2515–2522). Perhaps the clearest picture of this distinction and unity is Jesus’ baptism, where the Son is anointed for his public ministry by the Spirit, descending as a dove, with the Father declaring from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:13–17). All three persons of the Trinity are present, and each one is doing something different. To be continued. Taken from the ESV Study Bible. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.