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The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part VI: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Are Three Persons

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The Biblical Basis of the Doctrine of the Trinity, Part VI: The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Are Three Persons

Robert M. Bowman Jr.

VI. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit Are Each Someone Distinct from the Other Two (i.e., they are three “persons”)


A. Matt. 28:19

1. “the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit”: use of definite article before each personal noun indicates distinct persons unless explicitly stated otherwise; compare Rev. 1:17; 2:8, 26

2. The views that “Father” and “Son” are distinct persons but not the Holy Spirit, or that the Holy Spirit is not a person at all, or that all three are different offices or roles of one person, are impossible in view of the grammar (together with the fact that in Scripture a “spirit” is a person unless context shows otherwise).

3. Does singular “name” prove that the three are one person? No; cf. Gen. 5:2; 11:14; 48:6; and esp. 48:16. Thus, the word “name” can apply distinctly to each of the three (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) and does not imply that they have only one name.

4. “Name” need not be personal name, may be title: Is. 9:6; Matt. 1:23.

B. Acts 2:38 and Matt. 28:19

1. Neither passage specifies that certain words are to be spoken during baptism; nor does the Bible ever record someone saying, “I baptize you in the name of....”

2. Those said to be baptized in the name of Jesus (whether or not the formula “in the name of Jesus” was used) were people already familiar with the God of the OT:

a. Jews: Acts 2:5, 38; 22:16

b. Samaritans: Acts 8:5, 12, 16

c. God-fearing Gentiles: Acts 10:1-2, 22, 48

d. Disciples of John the Baptist: Acts 19:1-5

e. The first Christians in Corinth were Jews and God-fearing Gentiles: Acts 18:1-8; 1 Cor. 1:13

3. Trinitarian formula for baptism (if that is what Matt. 28:19 is) was given in context of commissioning apostles to take the gospel to “all the nations,” including people who did not know of the biblical God

4. Cross-referencing Acts 2:38 and other Acts references to baptism “in Jesus’ name” with Matthew 28:19 to prove that Jesus is the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is hermeneutically flawed, since none of these passages is seeking to make such a point and none of them is claiming that baptism must be performed using a particular formula.

C. God the Father and the Son Jesus Christ are two persons

1. The salutations: Rom. 1:7; 1 Cor. 1:3; 2 Cor. 1:2; Gal. 1:3; Eph. 1:2; 6:23; Phil. 1:2; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1, 2; 1 Tim. 1:1, 2; 2 Tim. 1:2; Tit. 1:4; Philem. 3; James 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:2; 2 John 3

2. Two witnesses: John 5:31-32; 8:16-18; cf. Num. 35:30; Deut. 17:6; 19:15

3. The Father sent the Son: John 3:16-17; Gal. 4:4; 1 John 4:10; etc.; cf. John 1:6; 17:18; 20:21

4. The Father and the Son love each other: John 3:35; 5:20; 14:31; 15:9; 17:23-26; cf. Matt. 3:17 par.; 17:5 par.; 2 Pet. 1:17

5. The Father speaks to the Son, and the Son speaks to the Father: John 11:41-42; 12:28; 17:1-26; etc.

6. The Father knows the Son, and the Son knows the Father: Matt. 11:27; Luke 10:22; John 7:29; 8:55; 10:15

7. Jesus our Advocate with the Father: 1 John 2:1

D. Jesus is not God the Father

1. Is. 9:6: “Father of eternity” means eternal; compare other names formed with word “father”: Abialbon, “father of strength” = strong (2 Sam. 23:31);Abiasaph, “father of gathering” = gatherer (Ex. 6:24); Abigail, a woman’s name (!), “father of exultation” = exulting (1 Chron. 2:16).

2. John 10:30

a. Jesus did not say, “I am the Father,” nor did he say, “the Son and the Father are one person.”

b. The first person plural esmen (“we are”) implies two persons.

c. The neuter word for “one” (hen) is used, implying essential unity but not personal unity.

d. John 10:30 in context is a strong affirmation of Christ’s deity, but does not mean that he is the Father.

3. John 5:43: Jesus’ coming in his Father’s name means not that he was the Father because he had the Father’s name, but that, while others come in their own name (or their own authority), Jesus does not; he comes in his Father’s name (on his Father’s authority).

4. John 8:19; 16:3: Ignorance of Jesus is indeed ignorance of the Father, but that does not prove that Jesus is the one he calls “My Father.”

5. John 14:6-11

a. Jesus and the Father are one being, not one person.

b. Jesus said, “I am in the Father,” not “I am the Father.”

c. The statement, “the Father is in me,” does not mean Jesus is the Father; compare John 14:20; 17:21-23.

6. John 14:18: An older adult brother can care for his younger siblings, thus preventing them from being “orphans,” without being their father.

7. Colossians 2:9: Does not mean that Jesus is the Father, or that Jesus is an incarnation of the Father; rather, since “Godhead” (theotês) means Deity, the state of being God, the nature of God, Jesus is fully God, but not the only person who is God. “The Godhead” here does not = the Father (note that Jesus is in the Father, John 10:38; 14:10, 11; 17:21), but the nature of the Father. See  II.B.3.

8. The Father and the Son are both involved in various activities: raising Jesus (Gal. 1:1; John 2:19-22), raising the dead (John 5:21); 6:39-40, 44, 54, 1 Cor. 6:14), answering prayer (John 14:13-14; 15:16; 16:23), sending the Holy Spirit (John 14:16; 15:26; 16:7), drawing people to Jesus (John 6:44; 12:32), etc. These common works do prove that the two persons are both God, but not that Jesus is the Father

E. The Son existed before his Incarnation, even before creation

1. Prov. 30:4: This is not predictive prophecy; “prophecy” in 30:1 translates massa, which is rendered elsewhere as “burden.”

2. The Son created all things, requiring of course that he existed when he did so: See above, IV.E.1.

3. Jesus was “with” (pros or para) God the Father before creation: John 1:1; 17:5; pros in John 1:1 does not mean “pertaining to,” although it does in Hebrews 2:17; 5:1 (which use pros with ta).

4. Jesus, the Son of God, existed before John the Baptist (who was born before Jesus): John 1:15, cf. 1:14-18, 29-34.

5. Jesus, the Son, came down from heaven, sent from the Father, and went back to heaven, back to the Father: John 3:13, 31; 6:33; 38, 41, 46, 51, 56-58, 62; 8:23, 42; 13:3; 16:27-28; cf. Acts 1:10-11; cf. the sending of the Holy Spirit, John 16:5-7; 1 Pet. 1:12

6. Jesus, speaking as the Son (John 8:54-56), asserts His eternal preexistence before Abraham: John 8:58

7. The Son explicitly said to exist “before all things”: Col. 1:17, cf. 1:12-20

8. These statements cannot be dismissed as true only in God’s foreknowledge

a. We are all “in God’s mind” before creation; yet such passages as John 1:1 and John 17:5 clearly mean to say something unusual about Christ.

b. To say that all things were created through Christ means that He must have existed at creation.

c. No one else in Scripture is ever said to have been with God before creation.

9. Texts which speak of the Son being begotten “today” do not mean he became the Son on a certain day, since they refer to his exaltation at his resurrection (Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:3-5; 5:5; cf. Ps. 2:7; cf. also Rom. 1:4).

F. Jesus is not the Holy Spirit

1. The Holy Spirit is “another Comforter”: John 14:16; compare 1 John 2:1.

2. Jesus sent the Holy Spirit: John 15:26; 16:7.

3. The Holy Spirit exhibits humility in relation to, and seeks to glorify, Jesus (John 16:13-14).

4. The Son and the Holy Spirit are distinguished as two persons in Matt. 28:19.

5. The Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus: Luke 3:22.

6. Is Jesus the Holy Spirit?

a. 2 Cor. 3:17: the Spirit is here called “Lord” in the sense of being Yahweh or God, not Jesus (cf. v. 16, citing Ex. 34:34; cf. v. 17 in the Revised English Bible); note Acts 28:25-27, cf. Is. 6:8-10.

b. 1 Cor. 15:45: Jesus is “a life-giving Spirit,” not in the sense that he is the Holy Spirit whom he sent at Pentecost, but in the sense that he is the glorified God-man; and as God he is Spirit by nature. All three persons of the Trinity are Spirit, though there are not three divine Spirits; and only one person is designated “the Holy Spirit.”

c. Rom. 8:27, 34: the fact that two persons intercede for us is consistent with the fact that we have two Advocates (John 14:16; Rom. 8:26; 1 John 2:1).

d. John 14:18: Jesus here refers to his appearances to the disciples after the resurrection (compare 14:19), not to the coming of the Spirit.

e. Jesus and the Holy Spirit are both involved in various activities: raising Jesus (John 2:19-19-22); Rom. 8:9-11), raising the dead (John 5:21; 6:39-40, 44, 54, Rom. 8:9-11), dwelling in the believer (John 14:16; 2 Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27), interceding for the believer (Rom. 8:26; Heb. 7:25), sanctifying believers (Eph. 5:26; 1 Pet. 1:2), etc. These works prove that the two persons are both God, but not that Jesus is the Holy Spirit.

G. The Father is not the Holy Spirit

1. The Father sent the Holy Spirit: John 14:15; 15:26.

2. The Holy Spirit intercedes with the Father for us: Rom. 8:26-27.

3. The Father and the Holy Spirit are distinguished as two persons in Matt. 28:19.

4. Is the Father the Holy Spirit?

a. Matt. 1:18; Luke 1:35: It is argued that the Holy Spirit is the Father of the incarnate Son of God; this argument ignores the fact that the “conception” is not a product of physical union between a man and a woman!

b. The Father and the Holy Spirit are both said to be active in various activities; the resurrection of Jesus (Gal. 1:1; Rom. 8:11), comforting Christians (2 Cor. 1:3-4; John 14:26), sanctifying Christians (Jude 1; 1 Pet. 1:2), etc. The most these facts prove is that the two work together; they do not prove the two are one person.