The Doctrine of the Trinity

This session was taught at the Christ Church Manchester School of Theology on Saturday 19th January 2019. The CCM School of Theology was set up to serve local churches in Manchester and beyond.

Topic: The Doctrine of the Trinity

In this session, we look at the Doctrine of the Trinity.

Speaker: Matt Fell

Matt is based in Cambridge and head up the year team project for the Relational Mission churches, part of the New Frontiers family. In this session he talks us through the Doctrine of the Trinity.







The Doctrine of the Trinity




The Holy Trinity


‘I AM WHO I AM’ – Exodus 3:14


‘Listen, O Israel, The LORD our God , the LORD is one’ – Deuteronomy 6:4


God is the creator of all things – Genesis 1:1-25, Isaiah 37:16, 45:7, 66:2 and more! ‘all these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be’


Philosophical Theology:


– Aseity


– Simplicity


  • God is not made up of parts
  • God is not one of many ‘gods’
  • God is all that God is


– Why Does this matter?


  • God is love
  • God is good
  • God is just


The bible uses a term to encapsulate all of this: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy, is the LORD God almighty.’


Holiness = the uniqueness of God’s being and the perfection of his goodness


The One God Revisited…..?


As we have seen, only Yahweh, Israel’s God is the great I AM. What is more, the LORD is one. But in the light of this truth, there are a number of Old Testament passages which are a bit confusing. We’re going to look at them. [Try to forget that you know the New Testament for a bit!]


  • The ‘Us’ passages – Genesis 1:26; Genesis 11:7; Psalm 45:6-7; Psalm 110:1, Isaiah 6:8
  • The Spirit of God – Genesis 1:1-2; Isaiah 63:10
  • The Angel of the Lord – Exodus 3:1-4; Exodus 14:19,24; Judges 6:11-27
  • The Word of the Lord – Genesis 15:1-6; Psalms 147:15-18; Ezekiel 1:3
  • Wisdom – Proverbs 8:22-23


The New Testament: ‘At the right time……God sent forth his Son……God sent his Spirit.’

The Old Testament promised a ‘day of the Lord’ in which the God of Israel would come to his people and be with them in a new and lasting way. He would come and bring about a great restoration of his people, freeing them from their oppressors, delivering them from their sinful hearts and bringing the nations in to join God’s people. The promises given the heroes of the Old Testament – Eve, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah etc. – will all come to pass.

The New Testament tells us of how God does this through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and through the giving of the Holy Spirit to in-dwell the church. These two events, or missions, – the life of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit – are described by the New Testament as not only the instruments of God’s salvation, but as the very presence and unified work of the one God of Israel.

The Gospels and the New testament letters describe the work of Jesus and tell us that he does those things that only God can do. Likewise, the New Testament teaches that the Spirit comes to do – in the life of Jesus and the church – those things which only God can do.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  Galatians 4:4-6


Did the early Church really think that Jesus was God?

Today we are very far removed from the original culture and customs of the first century in which Jesus lived and his disciples recorded his life. These writers used images, phrases and descriptions that drew on the Old Testament beliefs of the time to persuade their readers of Christ’s divinity. Once we spend a bit of time familiarising ourselves with the Old Testament depiction of God, we can then turn to the New Testament to see how the writers make very explicit claims about who Jesus is.

  • Mark 2:4-12
  • Matthew 28:8-9
  • John 8:53-59
  • Mark 4:35-41
  • Matthew 28:20
  • John 10:25-33
  • Mark 6:46-51
  • Luke 4:31-41
  • John 11:17-27
  • Matthew 20:18-19
  • Luke 6:1-5
  • John 14:6-11
  • Matthew 21:12-13
  • Luke 10:21-24
  • John 17:5,20-26
  • Matthew 22:41-46
  • John 4:1-15
  • John 20:24-29
  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • John 5:9-17


But did Jesus himself really claim to be God?

  • Mark 2:4-12
  • Matthew 28:8-9
  • John 8:53-59
  • Mark 4:35-41
  • Matthew 28:20
  • John 10:25-33
  • Mark 6:46-51
  • Luke 4:31-41
  • John 11:17-27
  • Matthew 20:18-19
  • Luke 6:1-5
  • John 14:6-11
  • Matthew 21:12-13
  • Luke 10:21-24
  • John 17:5,20-26
  • Matthew 22:41-46
  • John 4:1-15
  • John 20:24-29
  • Matthew 25:31-46
  • John 5:9-1


CS Lewis:

‘I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. ‘ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would eithere be a lunatic – on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is, the Son of God, or else a mad man or something worse.

You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. ….. Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was, and is, God!’

Making the case for Jesus’ divinity:


1) His teaching all centres on himself.

2) The earliest church documents deal with Jesus as God.

3) The New Testament documents praise Jesus in ways which were explicitly reserved for God!

4) The New Testament Writers also refer to him as Lord.


But was he really a man?

Jesus has a human body, emotions, mind and will. This in no way compromises his deity.

  • John 1:14
  • Luke 2:7
  • Luke 2:40
  • John 4:6
  • John 19:28
  • Matthew 4:2
  • Luke 23:26
  • Luke 23:46
  • John 20:20,27

From the apostles onwards the church has taught the full divinity and full humanity of Jesus Christ. However this claim would prove to be deeply controversial and contested. In fact it would take 4 centuries for the church to put together a defining theology of Christ (a Christology) and even longer than that for the full meaning of that theology to be realised.

The Mission of the Holy Spirit

The second century theologian Irenaeus of Lyon (who was the disciple of a disciple of the apostle John) said that God the Father acts through his two hands; his word and Spirit!

We rightly sing that ‘in Christ alone my hope is found’, however the Son of God does not fulfil his saving work alone; He only ever does what he sees his Father doing (John 5:19) and his whole life in the flesh is lived as an offering through the eternal Spirit (Hebrews 9:14). Indeed the title ‘Christ’ means anointed with the Spirit.

Throughout the life of Jesus we see that the Holy Spirit of God is present and at work in and through him in a very special way;

  • Luke 1:35
  • Mark 1:9-11
  • John 1:31-34
  • Mark 1:12
  • Luke 4:14-19
  • John 7:37-39
  • Matthew 12:28 & 31-32
  • Luke 10:21
  • John 14:15-27
  • John 16:5-15

‘He will share with you what is mine…’ – the Holy Spirit takes the salvation that Jesus has won for us and shares it with us. The Spirit is th gift of God’s presence, the Father’s love, the Son’s righteousness and the victory over sin and death! After pentecost, the Spirit continues the work of Christ in and through the church.

Is the Spirit God?

  • Acts 5:3-4
  • Hebrews 10:15-17
  • Hebrews 9:14
  • 1 Corinthians 2:10-11
  • Acts 1:8

The Spirit is referred to as Holy nearly 100 times.

The New Testament focuses more on proclaiming that Jesus Christ is fully God than it does the Spirit is God, why?

  • Because by proclaiming that Jesus, the Christ (the anointed one) is Lord, the Spirit is not left out; It is as Christ, the one brought forth and empowered by the Holy Spirit, that Jesus is Lord.
  • Because the Spirit directs Christians to Christ as the source of our salvation and not to himself.
  • Nevertheless, Christs salvation is only achieved and then shared with us by the Holy Spirit.

A Relationship with God the Holy Spirit

The great lie about the Holy Spirit is that ‘it’ is an ‘energy’ or ‘power’ of Goid.

  • Spirit in Hebrew is ‘ruach’, meaning breath, wind, spirit. Greek ‘pneuma’, meaning wind, spirit.
  • Breath is personal, moves, gives warmth, carries words, imparts life.
  • The way Jesus speaks about the Spirit is personal and intimate.
  • The Spirit is spoken of as a ‘he’ (John 14:17, 26; 16:14, 1 Corinthians 12:11).
  • In Acts the Spirit himself speaks to the Apostles (Acts 10:19-20; 13:2).

In Psalm 139 David cries out: ‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.’

The Spirit is at work, close, within the realm of creation. Straight away when we look at the Person and work of the Holy Spirit in scripture we have to get rid of any sense that God is far away. The Spirit is God close at hand, working within creation and you and I are living, breathing, worshipping examples of that!

The Work of the Spirit is Two-fold:

  • The Spirit is the general agency of God in the sustaining of creation…..
  • And the specific agency of God in affecting the gospel.

In other words he makes creation happen and he makes the gospel save!

He orders and orientates all things towards God’s Word and makes effective the work of Jesus and the will of the Father.

The Old Testament

The Life of Jesus

The Life of Christians

The Spirit was involved in giving life, shape and form to creation – see Genesis 1:1-5; 2:5-9; The Spirit is the ‘Breath of Life’ in Genesis 7:15, 7:22; Job 34:12-15. The Spirit overpowers the virgin Mary and works in her to make her the ‘bearer of God’ – Luke 1. The Spirit gives new life (John 3) to Christians! As the Lord breathed life into Adam, so Jesus breathed his Spirit into the church (John 20:22). Romans 8 also speaks about the Spirit ‘groaning’ along with creation (and Christians) for the restoration of all things.
The Spirit came upon individuals in power for specific tasks: the priests (Lev 8:1-12, Ps 133), the judges (Judges 15:14-15), the kings (1 Samuel 10:1, 9-13; 16:1, 11-13) The Spirit was upon Jesus for his ministry – see above and in particular Luke 4. The Spirit falls upon the disciples (Acts 2) in order for them to proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth; Jesus promises that the Spirit will help us do all that he did and more (John 14:12) the Spirit gives gifts to the Church (1 Corinthians 12-14)
The Spirit inspired the Prophets and writers of Scripture (Genesis 41:38, Numbers 24:2, Ezek 11:5) Jesus spoke words that were ‘Spirit and life’ (John 6:63) and he proclaimed the good news because the Holy Spirit was upon him (Luke 4). The Spirit fell upo the disciples in order for the to proclaim the good news to the whole earth (Acts 2); the Spirit enables all of God’s people to prophesy (see Acts 2 and 1 Corinthians 14); and the bible was composed and arranged by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit )1 Timothy 3:16).
The Spirit gave the creativity to God’s people in order to build the temple (Exodus 31). Jesus was guided and inspired by the Spirit as he gathered the disciples and commissioned the Apostles. By the Spirit, Jesus builds a ne temple of God, the church. God now lives in us and makes us his holy temple by the Spirit (Ephesians 2) and gives us gifts (Ephesians 4 and 1 Corinthians 12-14) in order to build up the church.

 Expressions of the Trinity in the New Testament

  •  Mark 1:1 ‘The beginning of the good news of Jesus the Anointed one, the Son of God.’
  • The baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22) ‘The Spirit of God descended like a dove…and behold a voice from heaven said, “this is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”‘
  • Jesus’ promise of the Spirit (John 14:15-17) ‘I will ask the Father and he will give you another helper….the Spirit of Truth.’
  • The great commission (Matthew 28:19) ‘baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.’
  • Romans 1:1-4 ‘…[set] apart for the Gospel of God…concerning his Son…[who] was declared to be the Son of God inpower according to the Spirit of holiness…Jesus Christ our Lord…’
  • Romans 15:30 ‘I appeal to you brothers, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit to strive together with me in prayers to God….’
  • 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ‘….I did not come proclaiming the testimony about God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified….[and] demonstrations of the Spirit’s power.’
  • 1 Corinthians 12:4-6 ‘Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are a variety of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone.’
  • 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.’
  • Galatians 4:4-6 ‘But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of a woman, born under law. ……so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts…’
  • Ephesians 1:17 ‘The God of ouor Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of Glory, may give you the Spirit of Wisdom..’
  • Ephesians 3:14-17 ‘For this reason I kneel before the Father….through the Spirit… that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.’
  • Ephesians 4:4-6 ‘There is one body (the church) and one Spirit…one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.’
  • 2 Thessalonians 2:13 ‘But we ought always to give thanks for you, beloved of the Lord, because God chose you as the firstfruits to be saved, through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth. To this he called you through our gospel, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
  • 1 Timothy 3:15-16 ‘I am writing these things…[so] you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness: He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed by the nations, believed in by the world, taken up in glory.’
  • Titus 3:4-6 ‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our saviour appeared, he saved us…..according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our saviour.’
  • Hebrews 9:14 ‘…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself ….to the living god.’
  • 1 Peter 1:1-2 ‘…..according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ…’
  • Jude 20:20-21 ‘…praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourself in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.’
  • Revelation 1:4-5 ‘Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come, and from the seven Spirits who are before his throne, and from Jesus Christ the faithful witness…’

From the Father, Through the Son in the Spirit

Throughout the New Testament we see that the pattern is that all of God’s graces to us (from creation through to salvation) come from the Father, through the Son and in the Spirit.

The reality of this is experienced in prayer.

Prayer is our faith lived out. It is where the rubber hits the road.

And through Christian prayer we see the belief that God is Trinity worked out:

  • Christians pray to God the Father (Matthew 6:9)
  • Christians pray in the name of the Son (John 14:13-14; 1 John 5:14)
  • Christians pray with the help of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15-16 & 26)

CS Lewis:

An ordinary simple Christian kneels down to say his prayers. He is trying to get in touch with God. But if he is a Christian he knows that what is prompting him to pray is also God (the Holy Spirit); God, so to speak, inside him. But he also knows that all his real knowledge of God comes through Christ, the man who was God – that Christ is standing beside him, helping him to pray, praying for him. You see what is happening? God is the thing to which he is praying – the goal he is trying to reach. God is also the road or bridge along which he is being pushed to that goal. So the whole threefold life of the three-personal being is actually going on in that ordinary little bedroom where an ordinary man is saying his prayers.

‘The Faith once for all delivered to saints’: The Historical Creeds

The New Testament expresses that our God is tri-une, trine in one, three persons united in one divine life.

Saying that ‘God is Trinity’:

  • Protects what we experience in our salvation
  • Properly directs our worship

However the New Testament itself never uses the word ‘Trinity’ nor does it ever say that God is three divine persons united in one divine life. And so over time the essential truth of the Holy Trinity became contested:

  • Gnosticism
  • Modalism (sometimes called Sabellianism)
  • Arians (led by Arian)

Because the New Testament account of salvation was/is jeopardised by these heresies, the church needed to respond with a clear statement which would teach Christians in all times and places to rightly read scripture and respond in faith and worship.

Paul’s wish in 1 Corinthians 1:10 ‘I appeal to you brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought.’

The result was the Apostles Creed (2nd & 3rd Century) and the Nicene Creed (4th Century)


The Apostles Creed The Nicene Creed

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried; he descended to hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended to heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty. From there he will come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of the saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen


We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible; And in one Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only begotten, begotten of the Father before all ages, Light of Light, Very God of Very God, Begotten, not made; of one essence* with the Father, by whom all things were made: Who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven, and was incarnate of the Holy Spirit and the virgin Mary, and was made man; and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate and suffered and was buried; and the third day he rose again, according to the scriptures and ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of the Father; and he shall come again with Glory to judge the living and the dead, whose kingdom shall have no end. And we believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, and the giver of life, who proceeds from the father, who with the father and the Son together is worshipped and glorified, who spoke by the prophets; and we believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. We acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins. We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the age to come. Amen.


*’One essence’ in Greek is homoousios = one being or substance

Q. But is it logical?

The Bible and Doctrine: made for one another

The doctrine of the Trinity becomes clearer in the incarnation and New Testament writing, then clarified in the churches response as it first formulate the canon (the books of the bible) and then as it formulates its Creeds.

Doctrine = A good guidance for reading scripture and for speaking of and to God in response.

Understanding the Incarnation

Throughout history people have been appalled by the incarnation. They have asked: How could almighty and unchangeable God become so week and frail? reflecting on the incarnation has helped the church learn that God is not limited by anything, not even by his own strength and majesty.

We are often tempted to think of God as distant and far away, above all the mess of life. But in fact our God is so strong, so mighty and majestic that he can enter a human womb, be a dependant baby, live, suffer and die and throughout it all not lose any of his Glory through it, nor be overcome by any of it. God is not bound by his divinity, he is able to become a human and more than able, God chooses to do so. Jesus is the only human who ever chose to be born, to live, to suffer, to die…..and all for us and for our salvation. Because the idea of the incarnated God was so offensive to the ancient world lots of folks tried to get alternative explanations. Today we call them heresies and they often have great names, taken from their lead figures:

  • Docetism
  • Gnosticism
  • Arianism
  • Apollinarianism
  • Nestorianism

The Chalcedon definition of Christian faith:

The Chalcedon definition of Christian faith was a doctrinal statement made in 451AD at a church council held in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey).

We, then, following the holy Fathers, all with one consent, teach people to confess one and the same Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the same perfect in Godhead and also perfect in manhood; truly God and truly man, of a reasonable (rational) soul and body; consubstantial (same substance) with the Father according to the Godhead, and consubstantial (same substance) with us according to the manhood; in all things like unto us, without sin; begotten before all ages of the Father according to the Godhead, and in these latter days, for us and for our salvation, born of the virgin Mary, the bearer of God, according to the manhood; One and the same Christ, Son, Lord, only begotten, to be acknowledged in two natures, inconfusedly, unchangeably, indivisibly, inseparably; the distinction of natures being by no means taken away by the union, but rather the property of each nature being preserved, and concurring in one person and one subsistence (individual), not parted or divided into two persons, but oe and the same Son, and only begotten God, The Word, The Lord Jesus Christ; as the prophets from the beginning have declared concerning him, and the Lord Jesus Christ himself has taught us, and the Creed of the holy Fathers has handed down to us.

The Breakdown




  • Two Natures
  • One Person
  • ‘without confusion, without change, without division, and without separation.’
  • The hypostatic union; two natures united in one person.




Pause and reflect




The one who cannot change becomes a baby; He who sustains and fills the whole earth resides in a manger; The God who needs nothing, hungers and thirsts; The almighty chooses to be the man of sorrows; Immortal God suffers and dies; and all of this for us.




Q. But does this all really matter?




A. Yes! ‘For God so Loved the world that he gave his only Son…..and sent his Holy Spirit…’




  • The doctrine of the Trinity tells us about who God is.
  • The Doctrine of the Trinity upholds the goodness of the Gospel.
  • The doctrine of the Trinity changes how we view the world.






The Holy Trinity:In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship by Robert Letham


On Communion with the Triune God by John Owen


The Good God by Mike Reeves


Simply God by Peter Sanlon




Enjoying the Trinity, three talks by Mike Reeves–a-delightfully-different.htm


Three talks with an ex buddhist Monk that relate to the doctrine of the Trinity (and are just very cool)








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