Doctrine | God
What does the Bible teach about God?
Question | How many persons are there in God?
Answer | God exists eternally in three perfectly united yet distinct persons—the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. They are one God, the same in essence but different in function.
Scripture | 2 Corinthians 13:14 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
Explanation| This is the question where we need to especially keep close at hand the truth that God is one. Why? Well, because now, with this question, we learn that God is also three while still being one. Really? Most definitely! Does this make sense? Actually, it’s very difficult to understand. Because we are human and God is not, we can’t understand this truth about God fully. And yet, if we take God at His word—and with His help—we can understand it truly. So what does it mean that God is one and three, at the same time?
God exists in three distinct persons. There is only one God, and that God is one. He’s not—and He cannot be—three separate or distinct Gods. He is one God. But the Bible reveals that this one God, while being one God always and forever, is one God in three persons. Persons is not the word that the Bible uses to refer to God or the truth of His three-ness. And in fact, the Bible doesn’t use any particular words to describe the three-ness of God (for example, we also use trinity and triune, but they cannot be found in the Bible either). Rather, the Bible demonstrates His three-in-one-ness. The word persons—along with the word nature (or substance or essence)—has been used by Christians for many, many years as a way to help us understand and describe God accurately. When we use nature to refer to God, we mean God in who He is as God—that is, His God-ness. When we use personsto refer to God, we mean God in how He expresses Himself, personally, relationally, functionally—that is, His personhood. And we use persons rather than personalities, for God does not have three personalities. Yet, He does have—or more precisely, He is—three distinct persons. Now, when we use nature and persons together in this way, it’s a little bit like saying, “I am human like you are human. We both have a human nature. But I am a different person than you are. And you are a different person than I am, even if we have similar personality traits.” But stop right there. Why? Well, you and I, though we are both human, we aren’t the same human. We don’t share one nature. And further, you and I, though as two different persons we might be able to get along with each other, we aren’t perfectly united as different persons in the same human. Yet, this is who God is. He is one in nature, and three in persons. Not three Gods, nor three personalities.
God exists as the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. These are the three—and the only three—persons of the one God. No more, no less. This is how the Bible talks about the personhood of God. And, it can be helpful to think of the personhood of God as three persons who have different jobs. The Father has a job, the Son has a job, and the Holy Spirit has a job, and they are each known by their jobs. But the three persons aren’t simply what they are because of what they do, but because of who they are. That is, the Father does what He does because He is the Father. We might think of it like this: what makes a dad, a dad, is not when he does dad things, but that he is a dad—meaning, he has a son or a daughter. And, a dad has dad things to do because he is a dad. In a similar way (though, definitely not the same way), this is like the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Who the Father is as the Father, the Son is not nor is the Holy Spirit. They each have different functions as three different persons. Jesus (the Son), in what happens to Him and by what He says, clearly affirms the difference between the three persons of the one God. At the beginning of His earthly ministry, the Son is baptized and both the Father and the Holy Spirit give distinct testimony to the distinctiveness of the Son.1 In His relationship to the Father, the Son often mentioned that He was sent by the Father to do what the Father commanded, and He would return to the Father.2 In His relationship to the Holy Spirit, the Son also instructed His disciples that after He returned to the Father He would send the Holy Spirit who would both minister to them and bear witness about Him in the world.3 All three are distinct persons, with different functions.
God exists eternally in three perfectly united yet distinct persons. The Father is God. The Son is God. The Holy Spirit is God. They are all three the same God, and each one of the three is fully God. If we were to use percentages, we might say that each of the three is 100% God, not 33.3% God. (In contrast, I could never say of my arm that it—on its own—was either 100% me or 100% human!) They have the same, one nature—they are one God—while functioning as three distinct persons. So, though the Father functions differently than the Son and the Holy Spirit (that is, they have different jobs), it’s not as if either the Son or the Holy Spirit are somehow less fully Godthan the Father is because they have different functions. No. Who the Father is as God, the Son and the Spirit are as well. And as one God, they are also perfectly united in their different functions. Though they have different jobs, they don’t work against each other or even separate from one another. Not at all! In their functions, they work perfectly together. What the Father does, He does in perfect union with the workof the Son and the Spirit. And, do you know what else? All of this is true of God all the time. God has always been and always will be three perfectly united yet distinct persons in one God. The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit exist eternally as the three-in-one God. Jesus clearly testified of His perfect union with the Father.4 And the Apostle Paul clearly demonstrated the perfect union of the Son with the Holy Spirit.5 But probably no clearer verse can be found—where all three are referenced—than in the Great Commission, when Jesus commands the disciples to baptize other disciples in the ‘name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.’6 These three have always been together and always work perfectly together, all as the same one God. And they always will.
Another verse that includes all three persons together is 2 Corinthians 13:14 (our verse above). Not only are all three referenced but each one is referenced in a distinct way and in union with the other two. First, Paul connects the Son (Lord Jesus Christ) with grace, the Father (God) with love, and the Holy Spirit with fellowship. Each one is involved in contributing something distinct, yet related. Second, Paul connects all three—the Son, the Father, and the Holy Spirit—as equally contributing. Meaning, they are all involved as God in giving to believers for their good. For my good and for your good!
This is what the Bible teaches about God.
1 Luke 3:21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heavens were opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form, like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” (See also, Matthew 3:13-17 and Mark 1:9-11)
2 John 5: 36 “But the testimony that I have is greater than that of John. For the works that the Father has given me to accomplish, the very works that I am doing, bear witness about me that the Father has sent me.”
3 John 15: 26 “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.”
4 John 10: 30 “I and the Father are one.” (See also, John 17:11, 22)
5 Romans 8: 9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (Note here, how the ‘Spirit’ is the ‘Spirit of God’ and the ‘Spirit of Christ,’ demonstrating both the distinctiveness and union of the Holy Spirit with the Father and the Son.)
6 Matthew 28: 18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them inthe name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”