Clear and effective communication is possible only when those involved define, understand, and employ the same terminology in the same way. We therefore begin with clarifying some key words and concepts.
Definition of Terms:
Monotheism is the belief in only one God, in contrast to the multiple gods of polytheism (cf. Ex. 20:3; Deut. 4:35, 39; 6:4; 1 Kgs. 8:60; 1 Chron. 17:20; Isa. 43:11; Zech. 14:9; Gal. 3:20; Jas. 2:19; etc.). However, there is significant disagreement among monotheists as to how God is to be understood and explained. Unitarianism is the view that God is a single Person or entity, the concept generally held by orthodox Jews and Muslims. Binitarianism is the idea that the one God is comprised of two divine Persons (the Father and the Son),1 espoused by 7th-day Church of God groups such as the General Conference of the Church of God (7th day), United Church of God, Living Church of God, and a few splinter groups of the Worldwide Church of God. Trinitarianism is the belief that the one unified God is comprised of three divine Persons (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit)2 and has been considered the orthodox view of most mainline believers throughout church history.
Seeing that strict unitarianism is very difficult to harmonize with the overall teachings of scripture, it is no surprise that a wide variety of unitarian subgroups have proliferated. Sabellianism, named after the 3rd-century theologian Sabellius,3 is the idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all the same Person, espoused by the United Pentecostal Church and various other so-called “Oneness Pentecostals” or “Jesus-Only Pentecostals.” Arianism, named after Arius of Alexandria (ca. 250-336), the first on record to have promoted this view, is the idea that Jesus the Son was created by God the Father and is therefore inferior in essence to the Father. A form of this doctrine is held by religious groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, and various Unitarian sects. Socinianism is a view maintaining that Jesus did not exist until he was conceived by the virgin Mary.4 This theological concept is named after the 16th-century Italian theologian Fausto Sozzini (Lat. Faustus Socinus) and was popularized in Poland. Modern-day proponents of this view include the Unitarian Church of Transylvania (also Poland and England), the Christadelphians, and the Church of God General Conference.
Responding to Popular Anti-Trinitarian Arguments:
1. “The word 'trinity' is not in the Bible.” Well, the word “Bible” is not in the Bible. Neither are terms such as "monotheism," "incarnation," “omniscience,” "omnipotence," and “providence,” but these words do convey biblical concepts. Irrespective of the descriptive terminology that might be employed for communicative purposes, the question should be whether or not the words convey biblical truth. Perhaps English terms such as Godhead, Divine Nature, Divinity, and Deity are to be preferred.
2. “The concept of trinitarianism is at variance with the biblical doctrine of monotheism.” This is a false antithesis. The concept of trinitarianism conflicts with unitarianism but not with monotheism (see definitions above). Monotheism is the belief in only one God, which is a conviction held by both trinitarians and unitarians. The unitarian concept is God as a single entity, while the trinitarian concept is one God (the Divine Nature) consisting of three distinct personages (the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit) in perfect unity. Trinitarianism is not the same as tritheism (belief in three separate gods). Note one of the primary differences in the way in which certain passages of scripture are interpreted by unitarians and trinitarians. When unitarians read about “God,” they are thinking of one Person; when trinitarians read about “God,” they allow the context to determine whether one or more divine Persons are intended. When a unitarian imposes his view of God on the text, and reads it with a misconstrued idea of the trinitarian view, he makes nonsensical arguments like: “How could Jesus be his own father?,” or “Was God speaking to himself?,” etc.
3. “The trinitarian doctrine originated in the 3rd–4th centuries along with other Roman Catholic heresies like transubstantiation, indulgences, maryolatry, etc.” This argument is similar to the sabbatarians’ accusation that Roman Catholicism (viz. Constantine) is allegedly responsible for changing the Sabbath to Sunday. It is a smoke-screen diverting attention from the real issue of what the Bible says. What about the history of the unitarian beliefs of sabellianism, arianism, and socinianism? If modern-day advocates of these teachings claim the Bible as the source of their beliefs rather than Sabellius, Arius, or Socinus, it is disingenuous to make shallow and misleading historical claims about the alleged origin of trinitarian beliefs.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 Some have claimed that the 2nd-century Melito of Sardis held this view, but this is disputed. By the 381 Council of Constantinople, it was a topic of debate and its proponents (a.k.a. “semi-arians”) rejected both arianism and trinitarianism.
2 This doctrine was affirmed in the 2nd-century writings of Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr, and Theophilus of Antioch, and in the 3rd-century writings of Tertullian of Carthage.
3 This idea has at times been attributed to Theodotus of Byzantium (ca. 190), but the first on record to have promoted it is Sabellius of Libya (ca. 215-220). He denied the concept of the triune Godhead and maintained that the designations Father, Son, and Holy Spirit merely denote different capacities or manifestations of the same divine being. The 16th-century Spanish Reformer Michael Servetus reaffirmed this teaching (resulting in his execution by Calvinists in Geneva), as did the 18th-century Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg.
4 This doctrine was espoused as early as the 4th century by the Pannonian bishop Photinus.
Related Posts: The Triune Godhead
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