The Doctrine of the Trinity in the Bible

Attributes of God: Triune

Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
—Matthew 3:13-17

God has always existed as the Holy Trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. While God is one, and the three persons are therefore inseparable, we must distinguish them, as Matthew’s report of Jesus’ baptism illustrates.

Jesus travels from his home province of Galilee to Judea to receive John’s baptism in the Jordan River. John balks at first, insisting he needs Jesus to baptize him. John protests because
while he baptizes with water, he knows that Jesus the Messiah “will baptize . . . with the Holy Spirit and fire,” referring to Pentecost (v. 11). However, Jesus convinces John to baptize him, declaring, “It is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness” (v. 15). John then baptizes Jesus with water, even though Jesus has no sin and does not need to repent, unlike everyone else John baptizes. Jesus submits to baptism to identify with sinners, whom he came to rescue through his sinless life and substitutionary death.

After Jesus’ baptism, he comes out of the water, heaven opens before him, and he sees the “Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (v. 16). The invisible Holy Spirit takes on a visible form so John can witness the Father anoint his Son with the Spirit as Israel’s king and Messiah. Next the Father announces from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). From all eternity the Father and Son have loved each other (John 17:24); now the Father proclaims his love for his Son from heaven to encourage him.

The Father’s words identify Jesus as both messianic King and humble servant who obeys the Father. While both Testaments insist there is only one living and true God, Jesus’ baptism shows we should distinguish the three divine persons: Jesus is baptized, the Father speaks from heaven, and the Spirit descends on Jesus.

Theology for Life

We worship the one true God when we come to the Father, through the Son, in the power of the Spirit. All three persons are worthy of worship, trust, and obedience, for they constitute the one God.

For more on the Trinity see:

  • John 14:8–11
  • 2 Cor. 13:14
  • 2 Thess. 2:13–14
  • 1 Tim. 2:5–6
  • Titus 3:4–6
  • Jude 20–21

This article is adapted from the ESV Systematic Theology Study Bible.

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