How Can God be One and Three at the Same Time?

One of the most misunderstood doctrines of Christianity is that of the Trinity, and not only by non-believers; most Christians have difficulty explaining the doctrine. We will not here undergo a complete explanation and defense of the Trinity. Instead we will tackle the simpler question: Is the trinity a contradiction? Some would say yes, and the argument goes like this:

1) The Bible says God is one

2) The doctrine of the Trinity says God is three

3) God cannot be both one and three

4) Therefore a triune God cannot exist

Now on the face of it, this is a good argument. However, it is based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the doctrine of the Trinity. The doctrine in its simplest form states

  • There is one, and only one God
  • The Father is God, the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God
  • The Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit is not the Father

When someone says “The Bible says there is one God!” the Trinitarian will heartily agree as this is an affirmation of the first point. The distinction between the Christian Doctrine of the Trinity and say, the Islamic Doctrine of Tawhid or oneness Pentecostalismis not one of monotheism vs trithiesm; rather, it is the distinction between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism.

Unitarianism is the doctrine that the one God is one person while Trinitarianism is the doctrine that the one God is three persons. It gets to be confusing when artistic depictions of the Trinity are practically tri-theistic like this and this and this and this.

So, we can state the doctrine of the trinity as:

“God is one God in three persons”

Now we can see how there is no contradiction. The doctrine does not say that God is one person and three persons, nor does it say that God is one God and three Gods. Both of those options would be contradictory. But being one God and three persons not contradictory, just difficult to understand.