Any good illustrations for the Trinity?

It can be hard to communicate what the trinity is like.

I grew up with the illustration of a clover leaf: one leaf with 3 distinct lobes. I’ve heard of the egg analogy: one egg, 3 distinct parts (shell, white, yolk). I’ve also heard how these illustrations reduce the impact of the trinity. I’ve just read a new illustration from Paul Copan’s ‘Is God a Moral Monster?’ in which he writes:

think of the the mythological three-headed dog Cerberus - three centres of awareness having a canine nature but in one dog

I’m wondering what the best summaries or illustrations of the trinity are that you’ve heard? How are these helpful or what are the drawbacks of these illustrations? Should we even attempt to use these illustrations?


Hi @alison,

Great question. This one is a puzzle for me too!

In Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Craig and Moreland provide the Cerberus analogy for the Trinity (p 593). There may be a connection between their work and Copan’s. Craig and Moreland argue that their view is not incompatible with the Scriptures, but they acknowledge that many post-Nicene creeds, including the Athanasian Creed, reject their view.

One counter-argument that’s been raised is the example of conjoined offspring. Though they share a body, they are two separate people. Likewise, if we identify each person of the Trinity as a separate center of consciousness, the question arises if we have moved towards polytheism.

One issue at the heart of the debate is whether or not we affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity. I tried to explore what it means to worship a Trinitarian God in this interview with a Trinitarian theologian:

My point is that the metaphors we use are ways of illustrating our theological commitments. So it’s very important that we first get clarity on what we mean, theologically, by important ideas like “Trinity” before we set out to explain those ideas in metaphorical language.

Ok, back to your question! If you affirm the doctrine of divine simplicity, can we use any metaphors?

In his book The Same God Who Works All Things, Dr. Adonis Vidu writes:

The knowledge of the persons does not follow the route of conceptual mastery but of experiential transformation. We know the Son insofar as we find ourselves to be imprinted with revelation through Christ. We experience the Spirit insofar as we find ourselves to receive a love that surpasses all understanding. Like the wine taster, who can only detect certain fragrances simultaneously with other notes, and only by having his taste buds “impressed,” we can only experience the distinct persons together , as we come under their “impress” in knowledge and love (pp. 352-353).

He also writes:

… The experience is not a mere epistemic experience, where we objectify the person. Rather it is a self-involving experience, where the person gives himself to me precisely through my operations. It is, as we have seen, more of a tasting than a seeing. It is more like recognizing a certain note in the unitary taste of a glass of wine. It is experiential and not discursive knowledge. To experience the Son in his personal property, then, is to know God; to experience the Holy Spirit in his personal property is to love God (362).

I understand Adonis to be saying that the Trinity is a conceptual challenge beyond our capacity to understand. However, at the level of experience, we recognize that we worship and know one God in three Persons.


@alison @Carson,

I agree we have no logical means to explain the Trinity.

Without one part, lobe, or shell, yoke, white, or body, soul, spirit, the removal of any part would make it incomplete.

Father Son, Holy Spirit seperated are still considered God, by themselves hence the Trinity.

We cannot do that with any created example we can come up with.

There is nothing that is a complete something when we take away part of it other than God.

We say Father God
Jesus is God in the flesh
The Holy Spirit is God who lives in us.
All scripture bears out this major truth.

We cant equate the Trinity naturally so I call it a incomprehensible mystery alone to solved when we are changed to that spiritual being at our natural death.

Its a simple truth then, that presently just causes frustration for many, when it is best to just accept it by faith and trust God who operates in a way, much higher than us.

Above, beyond our capacity yet theologically a fact

Resolved in my mind to end the conundrum for me.

Clarity without getting to lengthy.



Hi @alison :wave:

But still, we would like to somehow get an illustration that will be simple enough for our human minds to understand, yet close enough to Biblical principles to be valid.

I heard somewhere that Gen.1:1 started off with the trinity of trinities:
beginning”, Time
heaven”, Space
earth”, Matter

Each of which has its own three dimensions:
Time has its pass, present and future
Space has its length, width and height
Matter is either solid, liquid or gas

He made His masterpiece bear the same feature by giving it a body, soul and spirit. Thus the whole of Creation itself bears the stamp of its Triune Creator.

But the above examples so far only reflects God’s tripartite feature. Nowhere do they show the distinctiveness of each part and the unity of the three.

For this (unity) we refer to marriage, the (physical) union of male and female (Mk.10:8). In marriage there are two parties joined together “physically”. In this union, both parties retain their identity and individuality yet they are considered as “one”, especially in the legal sense, (i.e., under the law.)

From the Creator’s perspective, the physical union binds these two persons as one (1Cor.6:15,16). From the legal perspective, it is the ceremony that binds them until death, or until that marriage is revoked or nullified by law. This treatment highlights the binding, unifying characteristic of marriage universally accepted by most, if not all, cultures. Thus marriage, IMHO, gives us the closest illustration available for us to picture the qualities of the Triune God, with God Himself being the Third Person in this holy union—or at least the law, in some cases.


Yes, it’s an understandable desire.

However, we are still bound to be careful to what the Scriptures teach.

Here’s a helpful set of examples and a general principle from Dr. R. Scott Clark:

All illustrations of the Trinity end up in heresy (usually modalism). When I taught the doctrine of God course I used to keep a list.

  1. The Egg
  2. Ice, water, vapor
  3. 3 headed man
  4. Augustine’s: Lover, beloved, love (God is not three faculties of one soul, but three persons
  5. Pie (3 slices)
  6. Sun, heat and light
  7. 1 x 1 x 1 = 1
  8. Triangle: 3 sides and one triangle
  9. Circle
  10. One person bearing multiple relations simultaneously (aunt, mother, sister)
  11. Shamrock
  12. Electromagnatism: light is a wave and a particle and has an associated magnetic wave always present with it but they’re inseperable
  13. The Trinity is like Playdoh, one can take some apart but it’s the same Playdoh
  14. Apple (skin, core, fruit)
  15. Fidget spinner
  16. 3-D Cube

There’s a simple reason they don’t work: The Trinity, as such, isn’t like anything in creation. True, we humans are image bearers but nothing in creation serves as an analogy for the Trinity because the Trinity is a doctrine of special (biblical) revelation not nature or reason.

I find Dr. Clark’s reasoning persuasive. The risk of any analogy (including the one I provided above, from Dr. Vidu) is that we explain who God is in a way that reduces how glorious and wonderful he is.


Thanks @dennis! You’re right, we still want to try and understand even if it’s a struggle.

I love these little flickers of self reference that God has put into his work…they point in a direction but the full picture remains illusive. Maybe we need to be satisfied with these for now? Is it wrong to try and understand, though?

Marriage makes sense to be another glimmer of a one-but-many (in this case, two!) idea. However, as marriage is a picture of Christ and the bride, I wonder if can’t be used as a picture of the groom Himself. Certainly the idea of 2 people being one flesh illustrates a sense of the idea.

Oh interesting! I’d love a break down of how each one creates a heresy!! Can you help me understand Augustine’s illustration and how that’s heretical? It certainly reminded me of JW theology which describes the HS as an impersonal force….the idea that the HS is the love between the Lover and Beloved takes a step in that direction perhaps?


Yea, that seems to be part of it. We understand that God is love - not just the Holy Spirit.

It could also appear that “love” is a verb whereas the Lover and Beloved are personal.

Clark’s shorthand analysis is, “God is not three faculties of one soul, but three persons.”

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