Hard to understand. In Christianity, we believe in Trinity. But the problem is we can not find the term about Trinity in the bible. Some of the question raised are “Why do you Christians worship three God? What is the meaning of trinity?”, “From what verse or chapter or book in the bible explaining about the doctrine?”. It is difficult for Christians to answer these questions. But as Christians, we have to be prepare to give basic apologetical answers toward the questions of our faith.
Doctrinal importance. When we read the gospel of John, we will find the fact that the relation between Father-Son is repetitively mentioned in the whole Gospel of John. There is also a section in this gospel talked about the promise of the Holy Spirit. The first section of this gospel magnificently introduces Jesus as divine. Through this writing I tried to explore about the Holy Trinity especially from the perspective of the Gospel of John.
II. Context: The Jews' perspective on monotheistic God
Monotheistic context-One God. As one of major theistic religions in the world, Judaism has fundamental belief that God is the only one God. God is one. Judaism's synagog service always begin with the creed of Deu 6:4 “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the LORD is One”1. The decalogue, in the first two commandments forbade Israelites from having or worshiping any gods other than Yahweh (Exo 20:2-6, Deu 5:6-10)2. Judaism insists that Israel has only one object of faith and worship, who is God3.
Conflict between monotheistic Judaism vs Triune God. That is the reason why the Jews picked up stone to stoning Jesus, because Jesus stated that He and the Father are one. Jesus broke the Sabbath law, called God His own Father, made Himself equal to God. The Jews said “For a good work we stone thee not; but for blasphemy; and because that thou, being a man, makest thyself God.” (John 10:33, KJV). Another incident that the Jews want to stone Jesus is when Jesus stated about His pre-existence, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:59). The conflict between Jews and Jesus became intensify, reach its climax on the crucifixion of Jesus.
- Trinity in John's Gospel
Definition of Trinity. Wayne Grudem in his systematic theology define the doctrine of Trinity as : God eternally exist as three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and each person is fully God, and there is one God4. The passage in the bible which have been used in construction of Trinitarian can be found in John's Gospel, especially chapter 15-165 . John presents Father, Son, and Spirit as three characters who identities are bound together in a profound and mutually determining way6.
The formula naturally formed. The Jews have the problem to accept the divinity of Jesus. One of the key of the doctrine of Trinitarian in John's gospel is the divinity of Christ. The Gospel of John proclaiming about His divinity. Our faith in Christianity is to confess the divinity of Jesus that Jesus is our Lord and God. We devote our worship, praise and religious devotion to Jesus, equal as God. The Holy Spirit also is equated with God and has interrelation with the Son (John 14-16). Here we find the formula of the Triune God: God the Father is God, the Son is God and Holy Spirit is God, yet God is one.
The questions about Jesus by people in the Gospel of John
The questions of Christ identity. In the gospel of John we will find that peoples several times questioning about who is Jesus, His identity and His works. They asked about proving His authority, they compared Jesus with Moses, they asked about Christ identity, whether he is a prophet, they questioned about validity of His teaching. The crowds asked about “what must we do to do the works God's requires? What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe in You? What will You do?”. The people was not sure whether he is a good man or a deceiver. The disciples questioning about His hard teaching. His brothers did not believe in Him. These conflicts are intertwined in the whole Gospel of John. The writer openly presented to the readers about the conflicts and struggles of believing or unbelieving toward Jesus Christ, the Christ, the Son of God.
God the Father
The number of verses related to these term in the Gospel. The Johannine literatures contain a fuller discussion of the relationship between Father and Son than any other part of the NT. The most prominent title of Christ is “Son”, and the most prominent title of God is “Father”7. In the gospel of John the name God mentioned in 70 verses out of 879 verses in the gospel (KJV). The word “Father” can be found in 111 verses in the Gospel of John.
Jesus addressed God as His Father (Father-Son relationship) is frequently in the Gospel of John8. Father-Son relationship is a dominant picture to describe the relationship between God and Christ. God as Father described in the Gospel as transcendence and invisible which can be understood and approached only through the Son. Despite of His transcendence, God who is portrayed by Jesus is also a personal God. He works (5:17), He loves and is compassionate (3:16), Jesus communicates personally with the Father in prayer (John 17), He is holy, has power and authority (17:11).
The Divinity of Jesus
The pre-existence of Jesus. John 1:1-2 tells us about the pre-existence of the Word, the distinction between God and the Word, and the Word was God. John 1:14 stated that the Word, who is Jesus Christ, dwelt among us. From the prologue it is clear that these words identify Christ with God, Christ is the creator of all the creation. He is exist before the creation of the world (John 1:1) and it is supported also by His affirmation that He is exist before Abraham (John 8:59).
Jesus is equated with God (John 1:1).Logos in the prologue of John's Gospel regarded as living, intelligent and active personality9. Logos, which is Christ, is deity and identical in essence with God10 , He possessed and eternally manifested the very nature of God11. This Gospel introduces the concept of equality and unity between God the Father and the Son. It supports by His affirmation, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30), “..that you may know and understand that the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (John 10:38b). The use of words “I am” by Christ in the Gospel of John in Septuagint translated “I am he”, which is often used by Yahweh Himself, related to Ex 3:14 in which God describes Himself as “I am”12.
Worship and testimony of people. Other evidence about the divinity of Jesus mentioned in the gospel of John is the worship offered to Jesus and He accepted worship of people. Jesus accepted worship from the healed blind-born man (John 9:38). There are some people mentioned in John's Gospel confessing His deity. John the Baptist about Jesus: “the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie”; “look, the Lamb of God”; and “I testify that this is the Son of God”. Andrew said “We have found the Messiah” (1:41). Natanael said “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel”. The Samaritans confessed “we know that this man really is the Savior of the world”. Thomas, the rationalist who needs proof to believe, finally confessed that Jesus is his Lord and his God (John 20:28).
He did extraordinary ministries and signs (omnipotent). He did miraculous and extraordinary signs as changing water into the best wine, healed a 38 years paralyzed man, healed a sick son from a distance place, healed the blind born man, feed more than 5000 people with 5 small barley loaves and two small fish, etc. He also gave extraordinary teaching which was different from the Pharisee's. He was angry for unrighteousness and injustice in the Holy temple. He also knows human heart (omniscience). He knew man's true identity, who we are, he knew what was in a man. He is everywhere, he is omnipresence.
The Holy Spirit in John's Gospel
Description of the Spirit in the Gospel of John. Arthur W. Wainwright stated that the Johannine writings achieve a greater clarity than Paul in their exposition of the relationship between the Spirit and Christ13. Further he stated that the Johannine writings make strict distinction between Christ and the Spirit14.
The qualities of Holy Spirit personal existence. Edward Henry Bickersteth expounded about the qualities which evidence of Holy Spirit personal existence15. Some of the qualities he presented can be found in the Gospel of John. Holy Spirit knows the future; He convinces of sin, righteousness and judgement, He new-creates the soul, He teaches and comforts and guides us into all truth, He testifies with personal witnesses, and He is personally present.
The Divine attributes of the Holy Spirit. Bickersteth expound about the Divine attributes of the Holy Spirit. From the Gospel of John there are some of the attributes found : He is prescient and unveils futurity, He is absolutely free and independent. He is omnipresent. In the Gospel of John, the Holy Spirit descended from heaven on the baptism of Jesus (1:32). The Spirit of truth dwelleth with the disciples, and shall be in the disciples (14:7). He is eternal, He is Holy. God is a Spirit: and they that worship God must worship him in spirit and in truth (4:24).
The relationship between God the Father, the Son and Holy Spirit
The relation between Father and Son. This Father-Son relation described in love. There are some sayings in John's Gospel which describe that Christ is subordinate to the Father16. Jesus said that “The Father is greater than I” (John 14:28), “The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do”(John 5:26); “I seek not mine own will, but the will of the Father which hath sent me” (John 5:30); “My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16).
Priority and unity. On the other hand, there are some sayings that describe of the unity between the Father and Son. Jesus said that “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30); “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (John 14:9); “I am in the Father, and the Father in me... but the Father that dwelleth in me, he doeth the works” (John 14:10). This two reality of Father-Son relationship forms one of the principles in the doctrine of Trinity : of the subordination (or priority) and unity between Father and Son. In the Gospel of John it is clearly define of the relationship between God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Son is sent by the Father and the Holy Spirit is sent by the Father and the Son (John 3:17, 15:26).
Conclusion-answering the question on introduction. The doctrine of Trinity is biblical and the evidence of this doctrine can be seen not only in the Gospel of John but also other writings in the Bible. John is a trinitarian Gospel, which is more clearly and naturally explaining the reality of Trinitarian God than synoptic Gospels. There are various verses in the Gospel which exposed about the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost as divine: eternal, Holy, creator of all things, omnipotence, omnipresent, and omniscience.
The gospel of John is written in the late 60s to 70 AD and it becomes a major source for Christian doctrines, including the doctrine of Trinity. Bruce Milne said in his book: “John is the most explicitly theological of the four gospels and contributes important insights on all the primary loci of Christian doctrines.17”. Andreas J. Kostenberger and Scott R Swain stated that “From the patristic periode until today, John's Gospel has served as a major source for the church's knowledge, doctrine and worship of the triune God”18. This gospels contains some of the preliminary understanding of the Triune God of the early church.
Application for today. First, this doctrine has implication for our world today as Christians. We have a relational God in the fellowship of the Triune God and this doctrine will impact our perspective of unity in Christianity. Second, this doctrine is one of the stumbling blocks for other religions to understand Christianity. Through study this doctrine, at least we can give our stand point and our faith about the doctrine of Trinity and witnesses about Christ to any person who ask about this doctrine. Third, study this topic in the light of the Gospel of John will help us in our personal struggles and questions about the divinity of Jesus, as He is Christ, the Son of God.
1CV Matthew, William Dyrness & Vell-Matti Kakkainen (Ed), Global Dictionary of Theology, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008), p. 880
2 Andreas J. Kostenberger & Scott R Swain, p. 34
3R. Youngblood, Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, on subject about Monotheism, Walter A. Elwell (Ed.), (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1984)
4Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: an Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994). p.226
5G.L Bray, , New Dictionary of Theology, Sinclair B. Fergusson & David F. Wright (Ed)(Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1988), p. 692.
6 Andreas J. Kostenberger & Scott R Swain, p.27
7Arthur W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament, (London: SPCK, 1962), p. 191
8Arthur W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament, (London: SPCK, 1962), p.49
9Merrill C Tenney, John : The Gospel of Belief (Grand Rapids: Eerdsman Publishing, 1997), p.64
10Homer A. Kent Jr, Light in the Darkness: Studies in the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company, 1974), p. 26
11Tenney, op.cit., p.65
12Arthur W. Wainwright, The Trinity in the New Testament, (London: SPCK, 1962), p.90-91
13Arthur W. Wainwright, p. 221
14Arthur W. Wainwright, p. 222
15 Edward Henry Bickersteth, The Trinity, (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1976), p. 129
16Arthur W. Wainwright, p. 192
17Bruce Milne, Bible Speak Today : The Message of John (Leicester:Intervarsity-Press, 1993), p. 25-26
18 Andreas J. Kostenberger & Scott R Swain, Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity and John's Gospel, (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008