“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water: and, lo, the heavens were opened unto him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove, and lighting upon him: And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16, 17)
The above reference is used in an attempt to prove the trinity. The argument goes like this, “The Father speaks from heaven, the Son is on earth, and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove, therefore all three must be separate persons that together make one God.” There are elements in this text that could be interpreted in this way, but it is not necessary from the text.
There is generally no question about the Father’s position as the God of heaven, and this text demonstrates this fact. God refers to His Son as “my beloved Son.” This does not require us to conclude that the Son is somehow part of a trinity, but rather that Jesus is God’s own Son. The declaration of the Father that Jesus is His Son should not be interpreted to mean that Jesus is “God the Son, the second person of the trinity.” God could easily have made this declaration if He wanted us to believe it, but instead He simply said, “This is my beloved Son.” This does not contradict any of the texts we have read in our studies on the personality of God that state that Jesus is literally “the only begotten Son of God” who was “given” life by His Father (John 3:18; 5:26, etc.).
The question arises from the fact that the Spirit of God descended from the Father in the form of a dove. This is the key element of the text that is interpreted to mean that God is a trinity. Yet, the Bible says it was “the Spirit of God” that descended rather than “God the Holy Spirit.” The Spirit is mentioned as the property of Someone, it is God, the Father’s, own Spirit that descended like a dove.
If you presupposed that the Spirit of God was really a separate and distinct person other than God, the Father, then certainly one would expect that this verse refers to that third person taking the form of a dove. What if the Spirit of God descended in the forms of two doves, would you then conclude that there are two Spirits of God? If a visible manifestation of the Spirit of God means that the Holy Spirit is a distinct and separate individual from the Father, then what do we do when we read of 120 cloven tongues of fire in Acts chapter two? Here we read, “And there appeared unto them cloven tongues like as of fire, and it sat upon each of them [120 in all - verse 1:15]” (Acts 2:3). If one visible manifestation of the Spirit of God is one distinct person, then 120 visible manifestations of the Spirit of God must be 120 distinct persons. If the logic is sound in one text, it must be in all cases. Yet, we know that the Holy Spirit is not 120 persons. God is not made up of 122 people. Instead, God is one person who has a Spirit, just as truly as every living being has a spirit. God is able to send His Spirit anywhere He likes and it can appear in any form He wants.
The 120 visible manifestations of the Spirit of God were not intended to prove that God’s Spirit is 120 people, but rather they were given as a sign to those present that the Spirit of God was poured out upon those individuals. When Peter explained what happened he quoted God saying, “And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh:…” Peter did not think that the cloven tongues represented 120 spirits, but rather one Spirit, the Spirit of God. God said, “I will pour out of my Spirit.” This does not sound like He was planning to send a separate individual to represent Him, but that He would share His own Spirit with others. Peter further explained, “Therefore [Jesus] being by the right hand of God exalted, and having received of the Father the promise of the Holy Ghost, he hath shed forth this, which ye now see and hear” (Acts 2:33). If the 120 visible manifestations of the Spirit of God were designed to prove that the Holy Spirit is not God the Father’s own personal Spirit but a distinct individual, then Peter failed to get the point. He maintained that the Holy Spirit is the Father’s own Spirit that He gave to His Son who then shed it upon the disciples. Jesus said the Holy Spirit “proceedeth from the Father” (John 15:26).
When Jesus was baptized and the Spirit of God descended in the form of a dove the man who baptized him did not conclude that the Holy Spirit is a separate individual. John the Baptist said:
“I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God” (John 1:32-34)
Here John testified that the visible manifestation of the Spirit of God was intended to prove that Jesus would baptize with the Holy Spirit and that Jesus is the Son of God. If the events at Christ’s baptism were designed to prove that God is a trinity, John failed to get the message. He still maintained that the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and that Jesus is the Son of God. Interestingly, John called the Holy Spirit “it” in this text.
The bottom line is that even those who witnessed the events at Christ’s baptism came away from the experience without the understanding that God is a trinity. They still understood that God is the Father and Jesus is the Son of God and the Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of God.” It is irresponsible for us to conclude that God is a trinity from Christ’s baptism. The events there fall far short of proving the trinity doctrine.