4 Bad Ways to Explain the Trinity (and 1 Good One)

4 Bad Ways to Explain the Trinity (and 1 Good One)

Few topics of discussion in the Christian faith are more confusing than the idea of the Trinity.

The God of the Bible is one God. He has one essence—one substance. In other words, one “stuffness.” However, He exists in three Persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Each Person in the Trinity (or the Godhead) is fully God and fully a Person. They are equally eternal, powerful, sovereign, and worthy of worship. But they are one God.

Confusing, I know.

But this idea is central to the Christian faith. So much of what we know about what God does is wrapped up in who He is.

For instance, we know that God is perfectly loving. And the reason we know that is because the Persons of the Godhead have perfectly loved each other for all eternity.

We also know that God didn’t create humanity out of loneliness or boredom. Rather, He created us in order to bless us. And we know that because the Persons of the Godhead have perfectly blessed and exalted each other for all eternity.

So when God created us and revealed Himself to us, what He did was to invite us into the perfect goodness He has always known within Himself.

Pretty awesome, I know.

But while this idea is central to the Christian faith, it is also incredibly mysterious to us. It’s downright hard to understand. And in our efforts to grasp it, we’ve come up with a number of analogies.

Unfortunately, most of them actually give us the wrong idea about what the Trinity is. Here are four.

1. The Trinity is like H2O.

This is perhaps the most common analogy for the Trinity. God is like H2O—like water. Water can exist in liquid at room temperature. Heat it up, and it turns to vapor. Cool it down, and it’ll eventually freeze into a solid. But it’s all water.

This analogy seems to make a lot of sense, but it actually reinforces a fatal misconception about the Trinity called modalism.

According to modalism, God does not actually exist in three persons. He is one God who expresses Himself in three modes—Father, Son, and Spirit. But it’s all the same person, operating in three roles or functions. In the same way, water is all the same molecular structure, expressing itself in three different modes.

But if modalism is true, and the Trinity really is like water, then the story of Jesus (the Son) praying to the Father as recorded in the Bible seems like an awfully strange masquerade.

This error denies something central to God that makes Him God. So comparing God to water isn’t really as helpful as it seems on the surface.

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2. The Trinity is like a Father Who is also a Husband, Who is also a Son.

In this analogy, God is compared to a man. A man might be a father to his children, a husband to his wife, and son to his parents. He can even be all three at the same time. Surely this is a better understanding of the water analogy!

But not really.

This analogy actually falls prey to the same error of modalism. It’s all one person, simply functioning in three different roles.

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3. Trinity is like a Shamrock (or an Apple or an Egg).

The idea that the Trinity can be compared to a shamrock is largely attributed to St. Patrick. The analogy explains that in the same way that one shamrock can have three leaves on it, the Trinity has three Persons that constitute one God.

Modernizations of this analogy include that of an apple (with the peel, the flesh, and the core) or an egg (with its shell, yoke, and white).

These images fall short, because these components aren’t enough to be considered a whole on their own. If you looked at a single cloverleaf, you wouldn’t call it a shamrock. If all you had were an eggshell, you wouldn’t have a very exciting breakfast. If you only had an apple core, you wouldn’t pack it in your lunch.

But in the Godhead, each Person is fully and completely God unto Himself (even as they are all one God).

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4. The Trinity is like the Sun.

This analogy explains that the Father is like the sun. The Son is like the light rays that visibly reveal the sun, as Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15). The Holy Spirit is like the heat that the sun produces, unseen yet powerful and effective in making the sun felt.

This analogy sounds pretty good, but it is fatally flawed in that is describes the Son and Spirit as creations of the Father. This is the error of Arianism (not to be confused with Aryanism, which is also bad).

In Arianism, the Son is not eternally equal with the Father, but was the Father’s first and best creation. This would make Jesus something less than fully God.

RELATED: What Did Jesus Really Look Like?

Then How On Earth Should We Explain the Trinity?

So, I shot down a lot of images that seems to be pretty helpful. But if they give us a warped idea of what they are trying to explain, they aren’t helpful illustrations.

So what’s one good way to explain what the Trinity is?

I believe that the best way to talk about the Trinity is to simply say that God is one God, who eternally exists in three Persons. These three Persons are all equally God and all equally Persons. Yet there is only one God.

Still confusing. But still awesome.  

More Resources to Check Out

If you’re interested into diving deeper into the topic of the Trinity, here are some valuable resources that could help.


This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Amber

    Wow! I never thought about it in that way… some of these examples I’ve never heard of. God is Great, I always try to figure out how to explain it to my Sunday school kids and they get confused which i get, how would you explain it to them?
    Love your blogs!

    1. Dale Chamberlain

      Hey Amber!

      Yeah it’s definitely a hard thing to understand, let alone explain to little ones ! What makes it hard is that all of our analogies and metaphors fall short of capturing what the Trinity actually is.

      One thing that I’ve found helpful is using the Trinity to illustrate truths we know about God. For example, we know that God didn’t create humanity because He bored or lonely. He has been relationally fulfilled within Himself since forever. He also knows how to perfectly love us. And we know that because He’s been experiencing perfect love within Himself forever. God created us for community, since God is communal and we were created in His image. Yet there is still only one God we serve.

      So while it’s tough to make sense of the Trinity, the Trinity actually helps us make sense of so many things we believe. Does that make sense?

      1. Amber

        Yes! Thank you

  2. Reenie

    Hi I’m not a theologian and I don’t disagree with what you say but when you state that we know the persons of the Trinity have perfectly loved for eternity etc – how do “we know”?

    1. Artie Whitefox

      Don’t you know Jesus? Jesus loves us so much that he did not obliterate people who died, with power that set stars in the universe. Genisis 1:17, KJV. The military would like to have that power. The military would end up destroying themselves. Love was not given to Jesus.

    2. Artie Whitefox

      Three persons is false. One sits on the throne looking like Sardine and Jasper stone.

  3. J. Williams

    I think the analogy of the Sun works well. It does not imply Jesus was created if you emphasize that the Sun existed from eternity past. If the Sun existed from eternity past then so were the light rays from the Sun.

    An early church writer wrote:

    “Being the brightness of the eternal Light, He Himself also is absolutely eternal. For since light is always in existence, it is manifest that its brightness also exists, because light is perceived to exist from the fact that it shines, and it is impossible that light should not shine. And let us once more come to illustrations. If the sun exists, there is also day; if nothing of this be manifest, it is impossible that the sun should be there. If then the sun were eternal, the day would never end; but now, for such is not really the state of the case, the day begins with the beginning of the sun, and ends with its ending. But God is the eternal Light, which has neither had a beginning, nor shall ever fail. Therefore the eternal brightness shines forth before Him, and co-exists with Him, in that, existing without a beginning, and always begotten, He always shines before Him; and He is that Wisdom which says, “I was that wherein He delighted, and I was daily His delight before His face at all times.”

    1. Artie Whitefox

      Stars were made on the froth day. Light comes from God. God controls that light. That is why Moses said. show me your glory. Revelation 4:3“And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” That would not be had God be three persons. There would be three thrones. The Unseen Father is in Christs mind. Jesus is the Holy Spirit that saves us. Jesus, visually seen, judges all, not the Unseen Father.

    2. Artie Whitefox

      The Sun was created on the forth day. The Unseen Father and Father that is seen existed at the same time. The Unseen Father keeps the Father that is seen, alive. Both are one. The Holy Spirit is Christs spirit in us guiding us into all truth. Devils see that Spirit as a tempestuious fire. That fire keeps devils away from the saved. Devils cannot grab ahold of them to cast them into Satan’s prison. That is a holding pen for final judgment. Lost will be burned up. Lost will be ashes under the feet of the righteous.

  4. Artie Whitefox

    I have the good one. Jesus is the visual form of God. The visual form of God seperated from Jesus on the cross. Jesus would have remained in the tomb, or hell, had Jesus sinned. The Unseen Father would have been put into Satan’s prison. Jesus is in the form of the Holy Spirit. That is heaven in a person. Don’t grieve the Holy Spirit out of you. They that don’t have the Holy Spirit in them will talk like the Adversary.

  5. Artie Whitefox

    God is one. Jesus is the Holy Spirit. The unseen Father is in Christs mind. What is wrong with what I said?

  6. Artie Whitefox

    Stars were made on the forth day. Light comes from God. God controls that light. That is why Moses said. show me your glory. Revelation 4:3“ And he that sat was to look upon like a jasper and a sardine stone: and there was a rainbow round about the throne, in sight like unto an emerald.” That would not be had God be three persons. There would be three thrones. The Unseen Father is in Christs mind. Jesus is the Holy Spirit that saves us. Jesus, visually seen, judges all, not the Unseen Father.

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