Q & A Series: Is Belief in the Trinity Essential?

Question: Tim, I think you would agree that the deity of Christ is an essential of the faith….What about the Trinity? I do believe in the Trinity. But is belief in the Trinity an essential of the faith?

Answer: Thanks for the question. This one is a little tricky, because it depends on what you mean by “an essential of the faith.” For those who aren’t too familiar with this terminology, the Trinity is the Christian belief that God is one Being in three Persons (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).

So, is this doctrine an essential of the faith? Absolutely. It is crucial to have an accurate understanding of who God is. If we are off in our beliefs about God Himself, then it is highly probable that the rest of our theology will be askew. So belief in the Trinity is absolutely essential for sound doctrine.

But is belief in the Trinity a requirement for salvation? That is a different matter altogether. Thankfully, God does not require us to live a perfect life and have perfect theology before we can come to Him. If He did, no one would ever be saved.

Let’s look at three popular passages that are often cited when discussing how a person can be saved.

In Acts 16, Paul and Silas are in a Philippian jail. They were praying and singing praises to God when an earthquake shook the whole place, and the prison doors were opened, and the chains were loosened. Fearing that all the prisoners were gone (and that he would likely be put to death), the Philippian jailer drew his sword to kill himself. Paul called out and told him not to do it because the prisoners were still there. Acts 16:30-31 states:

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

How would these two missionaries respond to this all-important question? To hear some people, you would think they said something like this, “Well, you have to stop smoking and drinking. You have to attend church every week and give ten percent to the church. Plus, you have to believe in Jesus and have perfect theology. Then maybe you will be saved.” But that isn’t what they said.

Verse 31 states, “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved….'” Before commenting on what this means, look at two other popular verses dealing with the same subject.

…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. (John 3:16)

Notice that there is no formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in these verses. Also, notice that there are no other requirements, such as good works that one must do to get saved. Both Paul (Romans 10:9) and Jesus (John 3:16) declared that salvation is received through faith (belief) in Jesus Christ.

However, notice that each of these statements require belief that Jesus is God – Paul calls Jesus “the Lord” in both Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9 and Jesus declares that He is God’s Son in John 3:16. So it seems one must have a little bit of understanding into the concept of the Trinity. That is, they must believe that Jesus is God.

Finally, the idea of “belief” in Scripture is not a blind leap of faith or stab in the dark. Believe, faith, and trust are all included in the biblical concept of faith. One lexicon defines “believe” (Greek pisteuo) as “to believe to the extent of complete trust and reliance.” In other words, we must stop relying on our own abilities and efforts and place our complete trust and faith in Jesus Christ.

So is belief in the Trinity essential for sound doctrine? Absolutely! Is belief in the Trinity essential for salvation? I would give a qualified “No” to that question. One does not have to grasp that God is one Being in three Persons, before she can repent of her sins and trust in Christ. But if we truly believe that Jesus is Lord, then we should listen to His words about the Father (John 10:30) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17). These statements, and many others, provide us with the information for understanding the Trinity.

The doctrine of the Trinity is a difficult one to comprehend. That makes sense, since we are finite and God is infinite. How could we expect to fully understand the infinitely intelligent and powerful Creator? Thankfully, God does not require us to be perfect and have perfect understanding before we can come to Him, but He does expect us to trust Him.

If you have a question you want me to answer, please leave it as a comment to this article, and I will try to address it in the near future.

About Tim Chaffey

I am the founder of Midwest Apologetics and work as the Content Manager with the Attractions Division of Answers in Genesis. I have written (or co-authored) several books, including In Defense of Easter, God and Cancer, The Sons of God and the Nephilim, and The Truth Chronicles Series (see the publications page for more details). Please note: the opinions expressed on this site are my own and do not necessarily represent the views of Answers in Genesis.


Q & A Series: Is Belief in the Trinity Essential? — 9 Comments

  1. Hi Dr Chaffey! I had some questions about the Holy Spirit and was wondering if you could help me out? First, does the Holy Spirit confirm to us that the Bible truly is God’s Word? I believe 1 Corinthians 2 teaches that, but I’m not sure which verses. Are there any other verses that teach that as well? Second, once we become believers, does the Holy Spirit confirm to us the Resurrection and Christianity? I’m studying apologetics and would like to be able to explain to other believers that we can have ultimate confidence in Scripture through the Holy Spirit’s witness, and because of that we check everything against Scripture. Before I teach others, I would like to first ensure my understanding is correct. Thank you for your help!

    • Hi James,
      Technically, there isn’t a single verse that tells us the Holy Spirit confirms to us that the Bible is God’s Word. What I mean is that the books of the Bible don’t speak about “the Bible” because the Bible wasn’t fully written at the time the books were being written. It wasn’t until the final word of Revelation (“Amen”) was penned that the Bible had been fully written.
      That being said, in addition to 1 Corinthians 2, which you cited, we do have other passages that are relevant to your question. Romans 8 is the first one that comes to my mind. Here we are told much about the Spirit’s activity within our lives. He has set us free in Christ, He dwells within us, He will raise our bodies to life, He leads us, and He bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God. The final point in that statement is likely the most relevant to your question. While it doesn’t tell us that the Spirit confirms that the Bible is true, it tells us that He testifies with our spirit that we belong to God. It’s hard to describe exactly how He does this because it’s more than just an emotional warm fuzzy. I call it a deep conviction within the soul.
      John 10:27 seems to be important to this discussion as well. Jesus said that His sheep hear His voice and they follow Him. So, those who belong to Him can recognize His voice. I would argue that this is what happens as believers in Christ read Scripture. They are able to recognize their Master’s voice. It isn’t that the unbeliever can’t understand the words—of course they can—it’s just that they won’t be putting it into practice appropriately and experience the inner working of the Holy Spirit as He transforms our lives to be more like Christ.
      Some people seek absolute certainty (in a mathematical sense) about the inerrancy of Scripture. But I don’t think that’s what God intends. He wants us to walk by faith, and not by sight. Keep in mind that when the Bible describes faith, it means something very different than how our world defines it. Skeptics will claim that faith is believing in something for which you have no evidence. That is almost the opposite of what the Bible means when it talks about faith. For example, Hebrews 11:1 states, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” How can “evidence” be part of the definition of faith if faith is believing in something for which there is no evidence? Faith is believing in the God who has shown Himself to be trustworthy time and time and time again, so we can rest assured that He will be trustworthy to fulfill what He says will come to pass and that the things He inspired to be in His Word are true. Of course, He gives us plenty of reasons to recognize that Scripture has a supernatural origin. Just look at the huge number of accurate prophecies given centuries in advance and fulfilled to the letter. Only God can do that.
      Anyway, I’m sure much more could be said about this matter, but I hope that’s enough to get you thinking some more about it.
      God bless!

  2. Forgive me posting again. I uploaded my quickly first drafted comment by mistake and I’m not sure how to delete it. Sorry about that. Let me try again:

    It’s heartening to read your argument that acceptance of the trinity is not necessary for salvation. This video also makes an excellent case on that same thought. [link temporarily removed for review purposes]

    Even so, I challenge this statement:
    “However, notice that each of these statements require belief that Jesus is God – Paul calls Jesus “the Lord” in both Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9″ and Jesus declares that He is God’s Son in John 3:16. So it seems one must have a little bit of understanding into the concept of the Trinity. That is, they must believe that Jesus is God.”

    As you’re probably aware, ‘lord’ neither means nor implies God, let alone the only true and Almighty God. Rather, supremacy or authority is the implication. Lord simply means master and can be used to mean sir, head/husband and even idols, false gods, leaders and masters. The two uses of ‘lord’ at Colossians 3:22 highlight this well. So, in hearing Jesus being addressed as God in the use of the word ‘Lord’, we are reading that *into* and not out of the it.

    With John 3:16, I fear you are affected by the influence of dogma and man’s tradition. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life”. God, . . . gave his only begotten son’. Yet, despite this plain statement, tradition demands we ignore this and instead we are to hear, ‘God the Son’. Please know that no such phrase or moniker appears in the Bible. In fact, nowhere does Jesus claim to be God at all. You seem by suggest the text actually says something like: “”For I so loved the world, that I gave myself, God the Son, that whoever believes in me shall not perish, but have eternal life”. Jesus said no such thing.

    You are honest in adding that, “Notice, there is no formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in these verses.” I ask you to please also notice that there is no formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in ANY verse.

    I leave this comment in kindness and respect.

    • Hi Jule,
      I left your first post unpublished and only approved your second post. I hope that is a satisfactory solution for you.
      I am aware that “Lord” in the New Testament, from the Greek kurios, does not have to mean God, since it is used for those in authority. The same is true in English. For example, in the British Parliament there is the House of Lords. Obviously, these lords are not God. However, Paul frequently referred to Jesus as being equal to God (Philippians 2:5–11; Colossians 1:15–19, 2:9), so it is not a stretch to think that Paul’s use of “Lord” here implies more than simply calling Jesus his master.
      Your assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God is absolutely false. He made this claim multiple times. It’s quite obvious what claims He made when you see the reaction of those around Him.
      John specifically stated that Jesus is God in the very first verse of his Gospel. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” In John 8:58, Jesus said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM.” In John 10:30, He said, “I and the Father are one.” In both instances, the Jews around Him took up stones to kill Him. In the latter example, Jesus even asked why they wanted to stone Him, and they replied, “For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy, and because You, being a Man, make Yourself God.”
      Jesus did not back away from this claim even after being arrested. In Matthew 26:63, the high priest demanded that Jesus answer his charge. “I put You under oath by the living God: Tell us if You are the Christ, the Son of God.” Jesus replied, “It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” How did the high priest respond? “Then the high priest tore his clothes, saying, “He has spoken blasphemy!” And if Jesus were not God, then He would have definitely been guilty of blasphemy. Jesus was not shying away from giving a clear answer. He gave the clearest and boldest answer possible. He cited an Old Testament passage that clearly identifies a second divine person in heaven—the Son of Man. Known to scholars as “the Two Powers in Heaven,” Daniel’s vision of this second person shows that the Son of Man is equal to the Father. The Jews knew that full well, and it wasn’t until the second century AD, after Christianity had blossomed, they began to dismiss this view because Christians used it to support their belief that Jesus is God. This has long been the orthodox teaching of Christianity. The Trinity was not a doctrine invented in the 4th century or anything like that.
      You say that “there is no formulation of the doctrine of the Trinity in any verse.” If we are looking for the exact terminology we use to describe the Trinity, then it’s true that there is not one verse that specifically states that there are three divine persons in one Being. But we do see the doctrine in Scripture. In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said that His followers should baptize their disciples in the “name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Notice that “name” is singular, but then three names are given. This only makes grammatical sense in light of the Trinity. If they were three different beings, then He should have said in the “names” of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
      Thanks for reading.

  3. Something else to consider with regards the trinity that is rarely mentioned, is that some people can actually at times feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. And he is always celebrating when a soul is saved, when we hear of the expansion of the Lord’s Kingdom, and when we are really praising and glorifying God and or Jesus.
    So we know the Holy Spirit exists as we can feel his presence when we are born again.

  4. How can you say that someone’s “denial of the Trinity” is “anti-biblical?” The Trinity doctrine is not biblical, and most proponents will admit that it is a construction of “Systematic Theology.” Or to put this another way, are you able to point to any portion of scripture that plainly defines or teaches a “Trinity” doctrine?

    In contrast, there are many scriptures that plainly teach that there is only One God, and hundreds of scriptures where it speaks in a singular manner, with singular pronouns, referencing a singular being with a singular throne, and this “One God” is plainly taught as doctrine in scripture. Likewise, that Jesus was God is also plainly taught, and the combination of these two figures would seem to demonstrate that “Jesus is the One God.”

    To add another interesting twist to this question is the problem that some people that call themselves (or even think of themselves) as being “Trinitarian” actually have more of a “Oneness” perception of God than an actual Trinity. I have read complaints from orthodox Trinity proponents bemoaning this perceived problem.

    So in summary, I do not think that a Trinity person ought to be saying that a Oneness Pentecostal is being “unbiblical” in his belief. It is said that people that live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

    On a final note, John was commenting that his friend was rejecting the Trinity even after knowing its arguments… but isn’t that circular reasoning? Was John able to prove to his friend that his “Oneness” model was contradictory or flawed and that he was offering a superior model in its place? There is a lot of difference knowing an argument and seeing the argument proved.

    It does make a difference whether one believes in One God, and it does make a difference if one believes that Jesus was God in the flesh. Those are the important points, and I don’t think that you should be calling it a “serious error” if one is able to understand with a purer, simpler, and literally more biblical model than that which is dictated by a creed.

    • Hi Andrew,
      Rather than “reinvent the wheel” (so to speak) regarding the Trinity, I am providing a link to an article I wrote for Answers in Genesis last year, in which I state that the Trinity is a non-negotiable doctrine for me. http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/10/07/feedback-non-negotiable-trinity (Also, here’s a link to the article referenced in that article and it’s one that I edited and stand fully behind: http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/2011/07/19/trinity-three-different-gods)
      You seem to imply that because something comes from systematic theology that it can’t be correct. Why is that? If I were to ask you what you believe about angels, you would probably take me to a few passages that speak about angels. Guess what? That’s systematic theology. But there are a handful of verses that do mention the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together, so this isn’t just some theological conjecturing; it’s based on sound exegesis. Simply put, there is one God (Being), but there are three persons that are called God. So we have three persons in one God. That is not a contradiction nor is it contrary to Scripture. If the Trinity doctrine was that there were three gods in one God or three persons in one person, then that would be a contradiction.
      As for glass houses, I don’t live in one. Throw all the stones you want, and I’ll throw some of my own when I see teaching that contradicts Scripture (but it will be at the ideas, not the person). So since I believe the doctrine of the Trinity to be 100% biblical, then I believe it is unbiblical to deny the Trinity. Also, my belief in the Trinity is not because of some creed either.

  5. Tim, thanks for your thoughtful post. I would agree that the Philippian jailer probably did not know as much about the Trinity as later generations of Christians. Yet he was saved, according to this passage.

    Let me probe you a bit further on this. What about someone today who claims to be a Christian, who says he believes in the deity of Christ, and who has knowledge of Biblical arguments for the Trinity, and yet still denies the Trinity? I am thinking of the groups who refer to themselves as oneness pentecostals, or “Jesus-only” believers.

    I don’t think these people are in the same category as the Philippian jailer, because they have knowledge of Biblical evidence for the Trinity which was not available in the first century.



    • Hi John,
      Thanks for your kind words. I think the answer given in my post still applies to the situation with Oneness Pentecostals. While their denial of the Trinity is clearly anti-biblical, in light of what I have already written, I would have difficulty thinking that none of them are saved. Of course, that is God’s call and not mine. But clearly a person who doesn’t have perfect doctrine can be saved (thankfully, or else none of us could be saved). Also, I firmly believe a person cannot lose salvation because no one can take them out of the Father’s hand (John 10:29) and we have already passed from death to life (John 5:24). So it seems to me that it would be possible for a saved individual to have some bad doctrine (perhaps even misunderstanding the Trinity). I wouldn’t go so far as saying that everyone in this camp is a true believer, but I wouldn’t say that about any group.
      I’m not trying to downplay the seriousness of their error, but I don’t think I could justify a position that would automatically say they aren’t saved, since salvation is based on Christ’s work on the Cross and one receiving His offer of salvation.

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