Did Paul believe in the Trinity?
Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, To Timothy, my true child in the faith: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. (1 Timothy 1:1-3)
If you are a Christian, there was a time when you would not have wanted to meet Paul in a dark alley. Think circa Acts 8. He was, in those days, a self-righteous, violent Pharisee breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord (Ac 9:1). Worse yet, he believed he was doing the will of God—that is, until he met God.
Paul’s conversion story, however, doesn’t explicitly mention God. A light from heaven engulfs him, but it is Jesus who appears (Ac 9:3, 5). It is Jesus who asks him, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Ac 9:4). And it is Jesus who not only stops his reign of terror against the church, but also appoints him to be a divine messenger of the gospel.
And the Lord said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.” (Acts 26:15-18)
Despite the Father’s apparent absence on the road to Damascus, Paul credits both God and Christ Jesus for his apostolic call when writing his first letter to Timothy (1Ti 1:1). Though he makes a distinction between the two, he claims Jesus’s command was as good as God’s. Their wills are indistinguishable. Both the Father and the Son ordained him to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
Please don’t overlook Scripture’s many subtle references to the Trinity. Even if your preferred version of the Bible doesn’t contain the Comma Johanneum— “the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one,” often found at 1 John 5:7—the existence of three infinite beings who share the same substance, power, and eternity with undivided essence is dripping from the text of God’s inspired word from Genesis to Revelation.
I’m confident the Spirit was also present at Paul’s conversion—unless one is born of the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:5)—but the third person of the Trinity tends to operate without much fanfare. His outpouring in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost is one notable exception (Ac 2:1). For the most part, though, he quietly moves from heart to heart, injecting love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, not to mention truth and life (Gal 5:22, 23). Though Jesus held Paul’s reins during his radical transformation, the Spirit was equally responsible for taming the beast of Tarsus.
Look again at the opening of 1 Timothy. According to Paul, God is our Savior, a title we typically attribute to Jesus (1Ti 1:1). As for Christ Jesus, he is our hope, a claim interchangeable with the Father. I think it’s safe to say Paul believed in the Trinity. While he doesn’t mention the Spirit here, he’s intentionally careless in other places to refer to the Spirit as either the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ (Ro 8:9).
All three members of the Godhead are inseparable even if they are distinct. Furthermore, all three are necessary for salvation.