Do Presbyterians Believe in the Trinity? Get the Facts


Christians have believed the doctrine of the Trinity for over 2,000 years because they believe the Bible clearly teaches it. Yet some churches who called themselves Christian don’t believe in the Trinity. So what about Presbyterianism?

Presbyterians believe in the Trinity. Since it’s inception, the tradition has taught that there is one God who exists in three persons: Father, Son (Jesus Christ), and Holy Spirit. The doctrine of the Trinity has been a core belief of Presbyterian denominations and churches for over 500 years.

What exactly do Presbyterians believe about the Trinity? What is the biblical basis for their belief? Is the Trinity an area of agreement or disagreement with the Catholic church and other Protestant churches? Keep reading to learn more.

““Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one.” Deuteronomy 6:4 (ESV)

What do Presbyterians believe about the Trinity?

Presbyterians believe that the Bible teaches there is one God who exists in three persons: The Father, the Son (Jesus Christ), and the Holy Spirit.

Each member of the Trinity is fully God. In Christian theology, the Father is often referred to as the “first person of the Trinity,” the Son as “the second person of the Trinity,” and the Holy Spirit as “the third person of the Trinity.” For example, Christians believe that the eternal second person of the Trinity took on human flesh in Jesus of Nazareth. (Also see Presbyterian vs Puritan: What’s the Difference?)

Each member of the Trinity is equal in nature, power, will, and glory. They share one divine essence and exist in eternal relationship with one another. Yet the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have distinct roles. For example, it was the Son, not the Father or Holy Spirit, who died on the cross as an atonement for sin (e.g. Romans 3:23-25). (Also see Are Presbyterians Calvinists?)

Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen explains,

“The New Testament is just as much opposed as the Old Testament is to the thought that there are more Gods than one. Yet the New Testament with equal clearness teaches that the Father is God and the Son is God and the Holy Spirit is God, and that these three are not three aspects of the same person but three persons standing in a truly personal relationship to one another. There we have the great doctrine of the three persons but one God.”

The Christian Faith in the Modern World, 1936.

Also see: Presbyterian vs Roman Catholic: What’s the Difference?)

The Trinity in the Westminster Confession of Faith

The Presbyterian tradition values the Westminster Confession of Faith of 1647 and its articulation of Christian theology. [1]

Some moderate and liberal Presbyterian denominations today don’t value the statement as much as they once did, but it’s still the historical foundation of the tradition. Conservative Presbyterians still read and teach the Confession and use it as the standard description of biblical doctrine.

The authors of the Confession are often referred to as “the Westminster Divines.” [2] The Divines explain the doctrine of the Trinity in three sections. The Scripture citations (and abbreviations) below are found in the Confession.

Also see: Presbyterian vs Pentecostal: What’s the Difference?

Section 1: There is One God

The first section affirms the doctrine of monotheism, i.e. the belief that there is one God. The Trinity doesn’t imply polytheism, i.e. the beliefs that there are multiple gods. Several attributes of God that are revealed in Scripture are mentioned in this section. An attribute is a characteristic or perfection of God. The Confession reads,

I. There is but one only, (Deu 6:4; 1Co 8:4, 6); living, and true God, (1Th 1:9; Jer 10:10); who is infinite in being and perfection, (Job 11:7-9; Job 26:14); a most pure spirit, (Jhn 4:24); invisible, (1Ti 1:17); without body, parts, (Deu 4:15-16; Jhn 4:24; Luk 24:39); or passions, (Act 14:11, 15); immutable, (Jam 1:17; Mal 3:6); immense, (1Ki 8:27; Jer 23:23-24); eternal, (Psa 90:2; 1Ti 1:17); incomprehensible, (Psa 145:3); almighty, (Gen 17:1; Rev 4:8); most wise, (Rom 16:27); most holy, (Isa 6:3; Rev 4:8); most free, (Psa 115:3);

Most absolute, (Exd 3:14); working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will, (Eph 1:11); for, His own glory, (Prov 16:4; Rom 11:36); most loving, (1Jo 4:8; 1Jo 4:16); gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin, (Exd 34:6-7); the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him, (Hbr 11:6); and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments, (Neh 9:32-33); hating all sin, (Psa 5:5-6); and who will by no means clear the guilty, (Nah 1:2-3; Exd 34:7).

Section 2: The Self-Sufficiency of God

The sufficiency of God in Christian theology generally refers to the Bible’s teaching that God isn’t dependent on anything to be Himself or act according to His will. God doesn’t need people, angels, or anything in creation. He operates according to His standards. He doesn’t rely on any source outside Himself to define goodness and to acquire knowledge, for example. God is completely independent. The Confession reads,

II. God hath all life, (Jhn 5:26); glory, (Act 7:2); goodness, (Psa 119:68); blessedness, (1Ti 6:15; Rom 9:5); in and of Himself; and is alone in and unto Himself all-sufficient, not standing in need of any creatures which He hath made, (Act 17:24-25); nor deriving any glory from them, (Job 22:2-3); but only manifesting His own glory in, by, unto, and upon them. He is the alone fountain of all being, of whom, through whom, and to whom are all things, (Rom 11:36); and hath most sovereign dominion over them, to do by them, for them, or upon them whatsoever Himself pleaseth, (Rev 4:11; 1Ti 6:15; Dan 4:25; Dan 4:35).

In His sight all things are open and manifest, (Hbr 4:13); His knowledge is infinite, infallible, and independent upon the creature, (Rom 11:33-34; Psa 147:5); so as nothing is to Him contingent, or uncertain, (Act 15:18; Eze 11:5). He is most holy in all His counsels, in all His works, and in all His commands, (Psa 145:17). To Him is due from angels and men, and every other creature, whatsoever worship, service, or obedience He is pleased to require of them, (Rev 5:12-14).

“Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” John 8:58 (ESV)

Section 3: The Trinity

The paragraph below not only affirms that God is one, but that He is three as well. A common word in Christian theology to describe the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Father and Son is “procession” (or “proceeding” in context). The term doesn’t imply that the Father or Son created the Holy Spirit, but that the Spirit is eternally dependent upon them (see example verses below the paragraph).

III. In the unity of the Godhead there be three persons, of one substance, power, and eternity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, (1Jo 5:7; Mat 3:16-17; Mat 28:19; 2Co 13:14): the Father is of none, neither begotten, nor proceeding; the Son is eternally begotten of the Father, (Jhn 1:14; Jhn 1:18); the Holy Ghost eternally proceeding from the Father and the Son, (Jhn 15:26; Gal 4:6).

  • John 15:26, “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.” (ESV) emphasis added
  • Galatians 4:6, “And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba! Father!’ (ESV) emphasis added

Also see: Presbyterian vs Baptist: What’s the Difference?

Do Presbyterians believe the Father is God?

Yes, is the Father is God. Common verses used to support this doctrine include,

  • John 6:27, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (ESV)
  • 1 Peter 1:2, “according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, in the sanctification of the Spirit, for obedience to Jesus Christ and for sprinkling with his blood: May grace and peace be multiplied to you.” (ESV)

Also see: Presbyterian vs Anglican: What’s the Difference?

Do Presbyterians believe the Son is God?

Yes, Presbyterians believe that Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnate second person of the Trinity. Common verses used to support this doctrine include,

  • John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
  • Hebrews 1:8, “But of the Son [the Father] says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the scepter of uprightness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

Do Presbyterians believe the Holy Spirit is God?

Yes, Presbyterians believe the Holy Spirit is fully God. Common verses used to support this doctrine include,

  • Acts 5:3-4, “But Peter said, ‘Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back some of the price of the land? 4“While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not under your control? Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.'” (emphasis added)

Also see: How Do Presbyterians Worship?

References:
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