A member of my Sunday school class asked me a question after hearing my talk on the Trinity—the biblically derived doctrine of historic Christianity that the one God subsists as three distinct persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
He asked: “Which specific person in the Godhead created the world?” I have been asked thousands of questions over the last 20 years of teaching and lecturing in both churches and colleges, but that was the first time anyone ever asked me that particular question. I appreciated the specificity of the query and how it related to the unique Triune nature of God.
According to Scripture, each person within the Godhead was involved in the work of creation. While God the Father was the primary agent in initiating creation, nevertheless God the Son and God the Holy Spirit served as his divine coagents in the creative task. Thus it is proper to say biblically that the Triune God created all things. Consider a brief summary of the scriptural support for each divine person’s involvement in creation.
God the Father as primary agent in creation
In what was likely an early Christian creedal statement (modeled after the Jewish creed, the Shemah in Deuteronomy 6:4), the Apostle Paul identifies God the Father as the ultimate source and initiator of creation. “Yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live” (1 Corinthians 8:6a, NIV). The ancient Nicene Creed (one of the important ecumenical creeds of Christendom) notes the Christian church’s acknowledgment of the Father’s primary role in creation by asserting in its first article: “We believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all things visible and invisible.”2
God the Son as a coagent in creation
In the prologue of the Gospel of John (verses 1-18), the apostle describes the eternal “Word” (later identified as the Incarnate Son) that was with God in the beginning and was also God himself (John 1:1). The Apostle John then identifies God the Son as active in creation alongside the Father: “Through him [the Son] all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:3, NIV). The Son’s work in creation (see also Colossians 1:16-17; Hebrews 1:2, 10) demonstrates that he possesses the very prerogatives (privileges or rights) of deity. Paul affirms this notion in the second part of 1 Corinthians 8:6: “and there is but one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom all things came and through whom we live.” With the same descriptive language, Paul attributes to the Son the same powers of creation and providence as the Father (connecting the two divine persons in the creative act).
God the Holy Spirit as a coagent in creation
The second verse of the book of Genesis reveals the Holy Spirit’s active role with the Father in the creation of all things (see also Job 33:4; Psalm 104:30). Moses reveals through divine inspiration that at a very early stage in creation “the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters” (Genesis 1:2, NIV). This act of “hovering” conveys that the third person of the Trinity was nurturing and protecting the newly created order. The Holy Spirit, like the Son, and with the Father, possesses the divine prerogatives. For the Spirit also performs acts that are reserved for God alone.
A sound theological principle in thinking about the Trinity is to recognize that when one member of the Godhead is involved in a work, then in some way all three members are active therein. However, there are clear examples when one member of the Trinity is recognized as the primary agent in performing a given work. For example, as we observed, the Father is the primary agent in creation, whereas the Son plays this role in redemption, and the Holy Spirit in human regeneration (the new birth).
Evangelical theologian Millard Erickson provides a succinct way of thinking about how the three divine persons worked together in creation: “It was the Father who brought the created universe into being. But it was the Spirit and the Son who fashioned it. While the creation is from the Father, it is through the Son and by the Holy Spirit.”3
- For an exploration of the doctrine of the Trinity, see Kenneth Richard Samples, “How Can God Be Three and One?” in Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 63-76
- The Nicene Creed as cited in Ecumenical Creeds and Reformed Confessions (Grand Rapids, CRC publications, 1988), 8.
- Millard J. Erickson, Introducing Christian Doctrine, ed. L. Arnold Hustad (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992), 123