Holy Trinity: In the Beginning Was the Father—and the SonPrint
Long before St. Augustine, or even St. Paul, the first person to teach us about the Trinity was Jesus himself. We can find hints about the Trinity even in the Old Testament, and Jesus’ own teachings on the Trinity are based on those hints. Here are just a few examples of what Jesus said about the Triune God. (16th century Holy Trinity painting is by Giovanni Antonio de’ Sacchis, commonly known as Il Pordenone.)
Jesus Taught Us to Call God Our Father
Jesus called God his Father, and taught us to call God our Father. He based this on Isaiah 63:16 and 64:7, where the fatherhood of God refers to the fact that God is our creator, provider, and protector. In the gospels, Jesus repeatedly refers to God as “your Father,” and after his resurrection he said he was going to “ascend to my Father and your Father” (John 20:17).
Jesus as the Son Tells Us of His Own Divinity and Preexistence
Jesus called himself the Son. Most of the time, he referred to himself as the “Son of Man,” which (among other things) is a reference to Daniel 7:13-14. By reminding his audience of this important Old Testament passage, he was not only affirming his messiahship (that he came from the Father to be the mediator between the Father and humanity), but he was also actually hinting at his own divinity and preexistence. On certain occasions, Jesus acknowledged that those who called him the Son of God were correct (see Peter’s Confession in Matthew 16:15-19).
Most Christians are familiar with the beginning of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God” (John 1.1). This passage could be paraphrased as follows, since this is what it means: “In the beginning was the Son, and the Son was with the Father, and the Son was divine.”
Jesus Continues to Be with Us through the Holy Spirit
Finally, Jesus promised the Holy Spirit, to be “another advocate” with the Father—implying that he himself is the first Advocate (John 14:15-17, 26, 15:26, 16:13). The concept of the Holy Spirit as a distinct divine Person is based on such Old Testament passages as Psalm 51:11, Isaiah 40:13, 61:1, and 63:10-14. The Holy Spirit had inspired the prophets, and in the Church the Holy Spirit would be given to remain with us, and in us, uniting us to God and to each other in the Body of Christ. Jesus promised the apostles that the Holy Spirit would, “teach you everything and remind you of all that I told you.” So the same Holy Spirit who inspired the prophets would also inspire the writing of the New Testament. Now, through the Church, the Holy Spirit continues to bear witness to Christ and speak the truth.
At the end of his ministry, Jesus summed it all up when he gave the Church her baptismal formula. He said, “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 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 28:18-19). Here we see the Trinity expressed by Jesus—and he clearly meant to refer to himself as the Son, placing himself in the divine Godhead between the Father and the Spirit.
James L. Papandrea, PhD
© 2017 Liguori Publications. All rights reserved.
Want to learn more about the Holy Trinity? Dr. Papandrea is featured every Thursday on the SonRise Morning Show with Anna Mitchell. He originally was scheduled to be on the show the month of January; however, as a lively and informative guest, he has been extended as a regular guest through mid-May.
Read Dr. Papandrea’s book Trinity 101: Father, Son, Holy Spirit to learn more about the Trinity in Scripture, in the Church fathers, and in the Nicene Creed (including an explanation of the word consubstantial). The book features discussion questions which can be used for small group study.
James L. Papandrea, MDiv, PhD, is assistant professor of church history at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. He writes, lectures, conducts retreats, and leads days of recollection for people seeking to reenergize and reground their lives.